Watchdog wants government to cancel more telecom licenses


New Delhi : In what could land more mobile service firms in trouble, the telecom watchdog has recommended the cancellation of at least 53 licenses, against 13 being considered by the government, that had missed out on roll-out obligations.

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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has also suggested to the Department of Telecom (DoT) to seek legal opinion in 30 more cases so as to determine if their licences can be cancelled and penalties levied for similar violations.

In respect of 48 cases, the watchdog has left it to the department to ascertain the quantum of penalties to be imposed as per the terms of the universal access service licence agreement entered into with the operators.

“The authority has obtained legal opinion from two eminent jurists which support this view,” TRAI Secretary R.K. Arnold said in a letter to the secretary in the Department of Telecom (DoT).

Significantly, the watchdog also says that if its recommendations are, indeed, accepted by the government, it will release much of 210.4 megahertz of scarce spectrum — or radio frequencies that telecom operators use for wireless communications.

For the sake of simplicity, the watchdog had divided the 145 licences — issued after December 2006 — into four groups, based on the categories of cities they were issued for.

“The very purpose of mandating rollout obligation is to ensure that spectrum given is effectively utilised. The position of these licenses is such that neither the spectrum assigned to them has been effectively utilised for common good nor have they given expected revenue to the exchequer,” the TRAI said in respect of the first category which had 43 cases being reviewed.

The DoT had agreed to cancel 12 of these 43.

“The authority reiterates its earlier recommendation that the remaining 31 licenses may also be cancelled as per the license agreement in addition to the levy of liquidated damages,” it said.

TRAI has specifically named Videocon, Aircel and S.Tel whose licenses are to be cancelled or on which penalties are to be levied.

Videocon, which holds license to operate in four circles, has been recommended for cancellation along with the imposition of damages.

In the case of Aircel, both DoT and TRAI agreed on cancelling the operator’s license in Gujarat.

No recommendation was made for S.Tel’s license in Jammu and Kashmir as the matter is sub judice.

Some of the companies to whom licenses were granted after December 2006 include Loop Telecom, Etisalat DB, Sistema-Shyam, Videocon and Uninor.