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Telecom secretary Anshu Prakash. (Photo: PTI)
Telecom secretary Anshu Prakash. (Photo: PTI)

Examining multiple parameters for spectrum auction reform: Telecom secretary

  • Apart from 4G spectrum, India is planning its first auction of 5G airwaves this year
  • Telecom operators have always complained that compared with the rest of the world, airwaves in India are priced exorbitantly

New Delhi: The Department of Telecommunications is examining various options and parameters for reforming the architecture of spectrum auction and will hold inter-ministerial consultations if the need arises, telecom secretary Anshu Prakash said on Wednesday.

“We are looking at all aspects such as number of spectrum payment instalments, rate of interest, spectrum holding caps," Prakash told reporters on the sidelines of the three-day India Mobile Congress that started on Monday.

Prakash’s statement follows telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s comments on Monday that the government plans to hold spectrum auction this financial year and will consider reforming spectrum pricing.

This has come as welcome news to operators who have been clamouring for lower spectrum prices as they battle huge debt on their books, primarily on account of airwaves bought in previous auctions, amid a brutal tariff war.

Apart from 4G spectrum, India is planning its first auction of 5G airwaves this year.

The government did not auction any spectrum in 2017-18 and 2018-19. In 2016-17, it raised 65,789 crore through the sale of spectrum at base price, a fraction of the 5.63 trillion worth of spectrum it had offered for sale. While the total spectrum put up for sale was 2,354.44 megahertz (MHz) across seven bands, the government managed to auction just 965 MHz. There were no takers for 4G spectrum in the 700 Mhz band.

Telecom operators have always complained that when compared with the rest of the world, airwaves in India are priced exorbitantly. Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal in February said the telecom company would not buy any spectrum at the base prices suggested by the telecom regulator in the 3,300-3,600 MHz band, the first band identified for 5G in the country.

“What we have received from TRAI are recommendations on spectrum pricing. There are other parameters which we have to examine which we are doing so," Prakash said. “Ultimately it has to go for government approval. So saying anything else is premature...We have received the request of industry. We are processing various asks. And after examining we will take a call."

Prakash added that the government will take decisions keeping in mind the “realities and the situation of the industry in terms of number of players, competition, requirement of expansion of network and revenue considerations".

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