Aircel too opposes hike in spectrum usage charge; moves SC

Aircel too opposes hike in spectrum usage charge; moves SC

New Delhi: A leading telecom operator Aircel on Monday joined with other three service providers -- Bharti, Vodafone and Idea -- and moved Supreme Court against hike in spectrum usage charge.

Aircel, in which Maxis Communications of Malaysia holds majority 74% stake, also moved the Supreme Court challenging telecom tribunal TDSAT which had earlier declined to stay a hike in spectrum usage charge by the government.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S. H. kapadia issued notice to the Department of Telecom (DoT) seeking its response.

The bench list the case for hearing on 27 January along with other petitions filed by Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar and Idea Cellular.

On 22 October, the Supreme Court had stayed the TDSAT order upholding a hike in 2G telecom spectrum (radio waves) usage charges, but asked telcos Bharti, Vodafone and Idea to deposit with it 50% of the fee they would have otherwise had to pay.

It had directed Vodafone, Bharti Airtel, Bharti Hexacom (operating in Rajasthan) and Idea Cellular to deposit 50% of the proposed increase in fees with the Supreme Court registry.

The apex Court also asked the telcos to furnish bank guarantees, for the rest 50% liability.

Telecom service providers have to pay a percentage of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) to the government as spectrum usage charge.

This charge depends on the quantity of spectrum held by the operators.

The new charges vary between 3-8% depending upon the quantum of airwaves held by the respective operators.

As per the new charge, an operator holding spectrum up to 4.4 Mhz will have to pay 3% of the AGR compared to 2% now.

Vodafone has to pay Rs135 crore and the two Bharti firms have a joint liability of Rs220 crores on account of enhanced spectrum usage charges.

On 1 September, 2010, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal had held that the decision to enhance the spectrum usage charges was taken by DoT after following the proper consultation from sectoral regulator Trai and mandatory approval from Telecom Commission and Group of Ministers.

Challenging the TDSAT’s order, operators submitted that the tribunal had ignored that Trai’s recommendation was “without any effective and timely consultation process" and was violative of Trai Act.

“An expert committee has been set up by DoT themselves to go into all issues relating to spectrum, including its pricing.

“The expert committee had contradicted the recommendations of Trai," operators submitted questioning the committee and arbitrariness of the DoT.

They further submitted that Trai in its recommendation on 11 May, 2010, had disagreed with the enhanced 2G spectrum usage charges fixed by the DoT.