Telecom regulator to revive talks on spectrum allocation

  • DoT will send a reference to Trai in a few weeks to begin a fresh round of consultations on frequency allocation, pricing of the airwaves and to address issues of level playing field and security requirements

Gulveen Aulakh
First Published24 Apr 2024
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. (Photo: HT)
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. (Photo: HT)

The telecom department will send a reference to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in a few weeks to begin a fresh round of consultations on allocation of spectrum for satellite broadband communications, a senior official said, noting that the previous consultation process would not be taken forward in the light of enactment of the new telecom law.

“The terms of reference are being finalized. The fresh reference will be sent in a few weeks. Trai’s fair transparent consultation process will be followed. It will give its recommendations on the mechanism of allotment, the frequencies and the pricing, among other things,” the official said, asking not to be named.

“Trai has returned the previous reference in light of the new law and discussions with the industry have taken place,” the official added. The government enacted the Telecommunications Act 2023 in December where it added satellite-based communication services to the category of services that would be given spectrum without going through auctions.

Talks on allocation methodology

Trai had first begun the consultation on allocation methodology for satellite spectrum in 2022 and had held several rounds of consultations including an open-house discussion last year but did not issue any recommendations. The regulator had sought views on whether auction should be the mechanism for allocation of airwaves for satellite-based communication services. With the new telecom law being enacted the consultation became infructuous.

“The fresh consultations will also address the element of level playing field,” the official said, referring to the rift between industry participants on satcom services competing with services offered by terrestrial service providers or telcos.

Some parties including L&T, Tata Group, Nasscom, besides Bharti Group, Starlink and Amazon, have backed the non-auction route, while others including Reliance and Vodafone Idea have opposed direct allocation.

Also Read | 2024: A year of satellite broadband?

Bharti Group-backed Eutelsat OneWeb and Reliance’s Jio Satellite Communications are the only players that have got global mobile personal communication by satellite or GMPCS license. OneWeb is the only one to get the nod from space regulator IN-Space. Following the license and approvals, spectrum is needed for the companies to begin services in India.

Elon Musk’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper are also among applicants for the GMPCS license. The fresh consultation could render some changes to the license conditions, said people aware of the development.

The government can give spectrum for several services including for satellite broadband through administrative allocation, as per the new telecom law. But, for most categories, primarily spectrum used for telecom services will be auctioned.

Mint reported on Wednesday that the government had approached the Supreme Court before the Act was passed by Parliament informing the apex court that it was allocating certain airwaves outside of auction. By doing this the government was not seeking a change in the 2012 judgement of the apex court, the senior official said.

“The matter in Supreme Court is basically a Misc Application for clarification on the above point considering the multiple litigations. It was filed in the Supreme Court following the due process before introducing the Telecom Bill in Parliament. The application doesn’t ask for changing the Supreme Court judgement,” the official said asking not to be named.

On Monday, the government sought an urgent hearing from the bench led by Supreme Court chief justice D.Y. Chandrachud, after having filed the application with the court in December, that sought clarification from the court on whether the government can allocate airwaves administratively through a legal process in cases of sovereign functional requirements, in public interest or in cases where an auction is not possible due to technical or economic factors.

“As enacted in the new telecom law, only a very limited and narrowly defined cases including spectrum for walkie-talkie for police organizations, radar for weather forecasting, radar and communication for ships, communication for space and satellite applications, communication and radar for Army, Air Force and Navy and public sector undertakings (PSUs) like BSNL will be given on administrative basis," the official added. These cases amount to a minuscule part of the total allocations.

The plea for clarification comes years after the Supreme Court in 2012 said that competitive auctions will be the route for distribution of natural resources owned by the public. A Presidential reference by the Union government also followed the judgement.

Also Read | Trai releases consultation paper on 5G enterprise tech adoption


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