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Telecom panel to decide on spectrum caps

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In a major relief for mobile operators, a department of telecommunications committee has recommended that while calculating the spectrum caps of operators post-sharing or trading…

By Sanjay Singh

In a major relief for mobile operators, a department of telecommunications committee has recommended that while calculating the spectrum caps of operators post-sharing or trading, the total available spectrum should be taken into account rather than what has been allocated to the operators.

The committee has said that if the government wants to raise the cap from the present levels, it should refer the matter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and seek its view. The telecom commission, the highest policymaking body in the DoT, is meeting to decide on the matter.

However, even if the 25% overall cap and 50% in-band limit is retained but the criteria is changed from assigned to available, it will help even bigger operators like Bharti and Vodafone to share and trade spectrum.

The current provision says that after sharing or trading spectrum, the operators cannot hold more than 25% of the total spectrum assigned in a circle and 50% in a given band. This provision bars Bharti Airtel from sharing spectrum with any other operator in Delhi, for instance.

In Delhi the total assigned spectrum is at 155.95 MHz and Bharti’s holding is at 38 Mhz. The 25% caps spectrum holding at 38.99 Mhz so Bharti is almost sitting on the cap. But if the criteria is changed, as recommended by the committee, to take into account the total available spectrum, even the 2300 Mhz returned by MTNL to the government would be taken into account, which raises the cap to 175.99 Mhz, thus enabling Bharti to share.

The changed provision will help Bharti in other circles also where it holds spectrum in all bands — 1800, 900, 2100 and 2300 Mhz.

In July, Trai had reiterated spectrum cap rules, saying there was no need to modify the existing spectrum cap. However, it had said the spectrum once sold but returned should be counted while determining limit of radiowaves that a company can hold. The DoT committee has gone even further and said that even the spectrum which the government has or will get should be taken into account.

Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had constituted a committee to examine whether the caps can be made more liberal after the industry had pointed out that it was quite restrictive and would defeat the very purpose of optimal utilisation of spectrum.

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