Bharti, Vodafone move HC against spectrum auction

Written by feBureau | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 21 2013, 07:55am hrs
The government got a jolt on Wednesday with Bharti and Vodafone moving the Delhi high court against its decision to put up for auction the more efficient 900 Mhz spectrum, by taking it away from operators and calling the move as refarming.

Vodafone, Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular hold spectrum in the 900 Mhz band, which the department of telecommunications plans to auction along with auction of 1,800 and 800 Mhz beginning March 11. However, the auction of 900 Mhz spectrum, in the first instance, would happen only in the Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata circles. Licences of Bharti is due for renewal in November for Delhi and Kolkata circles, while Vodafone's due for Delhi and Mumbai circles.

While Vodafone filed its petition in Wednesday morning, sources said later even Bharti Airtel moved the HC.

Vodafone's petition has urged that the government should stop the auction of 900 Mhz while it may go ahead with that of 1,800 and 800 Mhz bands. The company moved the Delhi HC after the Supreme Court said last week that auction of 900 Mhz spectrum was not part of its February 2, 2012 order and companies are free to challenge it before any court of law.

Earlier, companies like Bharti , Vodafone, Idea and Reliance Communications obtained a stay order from various courts against the DoT's directive to pay a one-time charge for holding spectrum beyond 4.4 Mhz.

Protesting the DoT's decision to put up the 900 Mhz spectrum which it currently holds for auction, Vodafone said that it has already filed applications with the DoT in December 2012 for extending its telecom licences as the tenure of the permits for operating mobile services in certain circles are drawing to an end in 2014.

Vodafone has filed a petition in the Delhi HC, challenging DoT's action of putting its 900 Mhz spectrum to auction even when Vodafone's applications for licence extension are pending with DoT, the company said in a statement.

The company had sought in December last year sought extension of its licence period for Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata circles, which are coming up for renewal in November 2014.

The telecom operator has sought the extension under clause 4.1 of the licence agreement, under which the government can extend the period of licence by 10 years at one time if the request is made by the operator during the 19th year of the licence period.

Vodafone said it is entitled to a fair and reasonable extension of its licence as per mutually agreeable terms. Both the policy and licence provide for continuity and this action of DoT to arbitrarily withdraw the 900 Mhz spectrum is not only against the provisions of policy and licence but also disruptive and against public interest, the statement added. The second round of spectrum sale will start from March 11, wherein government will put on auction the unsold GSM spectrum in 1,800 Mhz band and airwaves held by telecom licences in 900 Mhz band that is coming for renewal starting 2014 onwards.

Under the second round, government will auction spectrum in 900 Mhz band for Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata circles. Vodafone has around 24 Mhz spectrum in the 900 Mhz band in these three circles.