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Return 3G license fees if roaming pact illegal: Telecom biggies

New Delhi: Leading telecom service providers Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular Tuesday sought the prime minister’s intervention in the 3G Intra Circle Roaming (ICR) issue and said the government should refund the 3G license fees if such pacts were not allowed.

Airtel, along with Vodafone and Idea Cellular, had entered into a roaming agreement to offer 3G services in the circles where they could not win the 3G spectrum.

However, the telecom regulator and the enforcement cell of the telecom department department say the agreement as illegal.

“In the event, the 3G ICR is now deemed impermissible, then it would be clear breach of our contract and the pre-auction confirmation given by the government,” the operators said in a joint letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“In that eventuality, we request that our spectrum auction payments be refunded to us with interest along with compensation for all the capital investments made by us,” the companies said.

The letter, which was signed by Bharti Airtel chairman and group chief executive officer, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla and Vodafone Group group chief executive Vittorio Colao, also said that the telecom companies were only providing 3G services to roaming customers, which did not amount to spectrum sharing as was being alleged.

“Any suggestion that the existing 3G ICR arrangement is akin to spectrum sharing is, to say the least, misleading.”

“Even DoT, in its recent communication to TRAI has clearly stated that Intra Service Area Roaming in 3G network where one of the operators does not have 3G spectrum shall not be treated as spectrum sharing.”

A copy of the letter has also been sent to Communications Minister Kapil Sibal.

The operators said that they are astonished to hear that the government was considering a reversal of its earlier stated position and seeking to question the legality and permissibility of 3G ICR arrangement.

“This is tantamount to reneging on the government’s promises made through the technology-neutral license and the 2008 license amendment and the Q&A confirmations
provided before the 3G auctions,” the companies said in the letter.

“We seek your most urgent intervention to ensure that contract and promises are honoured otherwise the reputation of an acclaimed, transparent auction, will be harmed irreparably.”

The high priced bidding for 3G auctions, which took place last year fetched the exchequer a little under Rs.70,000 crore and saw top operators coughing billions of ruppees with Bharti Airtel paying up Rs.12,295 crore for 13 circles.

While Airtel along with Vodafone won the spectrum in Delhi and Mumbai, other operators such as Idea Cellular through bagged spectrum in 11 circles but could not win spectrum in Delhi and Mumbai.

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