Split TDSAT verdict takes 3G roaming fight to Supreme Court
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A split verdict by the telecom tribunal on Tuesday on intra-circle 3G roaming pacts between Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular will ensure the three operators continue to provide services in circles where they do not have 3G spectrum. The matter is now set to go to the Supreme Court for a final resolution.
Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) chairman justice SB Sinha ruled in favour of the operators saying services are not spectrum-specific and roaming services are not linked to the band in which operators hold spectrum. He also said there was no difference between inter- and intra-circle roaming and the licence allows for both.
Justice Sinha castigated the department of telecommunications (DoT) for not following the principles of natural justice in asking operators to stop such services by calling them illegal. His order has asked DoT to start the whole process afresh.
However, TDSAT member PK Rastogi dismissed the operators' appeal, stating operators having 2G spectrum cannot provide 3G services. Curiously, Rastogi brushed aside the notice inviting applications (NIA) document which permitted intra-circle roaming, stating it is not binding on DoT and does not confer any rights to the operators. He has also differed with justice Sinha on the principles of natural justice, stating operators were all along aware of DoT's stand.
The tribunal, which is a three-member body, currently has only two members with the third one having retired and no substitute in place yet. The verdict comes after almost six months and is sure to carry on for a few more months before a final order by a higher court resolves the issue.
The problem began last year with DoT taking the stand that 3G intra-circle roaming pacts are illegal, which was contested by the operators who had entered into such agreements to provide 3G services even in the areas where they did not have spectrum. While the operators maintain that the NIA document and subsequent clarifications by the government allowed for such pacts, DoT maintains that such arrangements are illegal and leads to a loss of revenue for the government.
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