The department of telecom has opposed TRAI’s suggestion to auction the CDMA spectrum surrendered by Tata Teleservices (Tata DoCoMo) in the upcoming auctions, saying that there is a chance that the spectrum may have to be returned to the operator.
However, in its response to DoT’s doubts, the TRAI reiterated that the spectrum should be auctioned and the risk of having to return it to Tata DoCoMo is very less.
“The Legal Opinion received by DoT indicates that the auction of spectrum proposed to be surrendered by M/s Tata Tele Services (TTL) and Tata Tele Services Maharashtra) Ltd during the pendency of Writ Petitions before the Hon’ble High Courts of Bombay and Kolkata may likely to create third party interest, leading to legal complications.
“The DoT is of the view that since the matter related to surrender of spectrum by TTSL/TTML is subjudice, the carriers proposed for surrender by TTSL/TTML cannot be considered for making a chunk of contiguous of 5 MHz.”
Tata DoCoMo operates both CDMA services (earlier called Tata Indicom) and GSM services.
In its reply to DoT’s expression of reservations, TRAI dismissed the fears.
“TTSL surrendered the spectrum in April 2013 to absolve it from any liability arising out of the one-time spectrum charges (OTC) on spectrum holding beyond 2.5 MHz in the 800 MHz band.
“This spectrum has already been lying idle for the past 18 months. Since conclusion of the entire judicial process may take considerable time, keeping the spectrum idle till such time is certainly neither desirable nor does it make economic sense5. The Authority is also not aware about the legal action taken by the DoT to ensure that the spectrum is not kept idle but is gainfully employed.”
It also pointed out that since the spectrum was allocated via the subscriber-linked allocation method, the same criteria can now be applied to prevent a return of the spectrum.
“As per the subscriber-linked criteria of DoT, which was last amended in January 2008, no additional spectrum beyond what is available with it (Tata DoCoMo) after surrender is justified to TTSL except in Maharashtra.”
TRAI also wanted the DoT to take back half of the CDMA spectrum held by BSNL in 17 circles, while DoT said it had decided to take back spectrum in only 10 circles.
“The DoT has not explained why the Authority’s recommendations were being accepted for only 10 LSAs. It is not 5 clear why the recommendations are not being accepted in the remaining 7 LSAs. First and foremost, the Authority would like to point out that both PSUs were allocated the spectrum in the 800 MHz band administratively and free of charge.
“Both the PSUs are Government owned companies and the DoT, being the licensor, has every right to take the spectrum back from them if they are not using it optimally and efficiently,” it added.
“Spectrum in the 800 MHz band assigned to PSUs is grossly unutilised. There is a continuous decline in the number of subscribers being served by them and their current combined CDMA subscriber base is only 2% of the total CDMA subscribers, while they hold nearly 24% of the total spectrum assigned in the 800 MHz band.
“On average, they are serving around 13,500 subscribers per MHz, while private TSPs are serving around 2.24 lakh subscribers per MHz spectrum in this band i.e. private TSPs cater to almost 16 times more subscribers using the same amount of spectrum in the 800 MHz band.”