Regulator Trai is firm on going ahead with the consultation process, including open house forum, on spectrum auction, effectively turning down the industry’s demand for putting off the discussion for the time being. Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), R S Sharma told PTI that the regulator is “duty-bound” to respond to matters referred to it by the government for recommendations, in this case on spectrum auction for various bands, pricing and other modalities. Established operators like Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular argue that there can be no case for holding spectrum auctions or even a consultation process in the prevailing scenario where the industry – locked in a tariff war – has been bruised by falling revenues and high levies. “There is no question of scrapping…,” Sharma said when asked if the regulator will agree to the operators’ demand not to go ahead with the consultation process at this point. “Obviously, we will go ahead with an open house discussion… we will complete the open house and give recommendations to the government… as required by them,” he said. Sharma further said there was nothing wrong in holding a consultation process to understand the views of various stakeholders as it underscored transparency. “It (not allowing consultation) is like saying don’t speak up… that is not correct… We are just consulting stakeholders, what is wrong with that?” he quipped.
In its written submission to the Trai consultation paper on spectrum auction, Bharti Airtel has said an “opportune” time for holding the sale of airwaves would be the end of 2018-19. Airtel has also contended that the consultation process on auction and pricing of spectrum should be initiated between September and December 2018, when operators are better placed to assess their future needs. Idea, too, has said timing for the consultation is “inappropriate” and that there is no business case for acquisition of any more spectrum, considering the current industry scenario of “below cost pricing” and “hyper competition”.
Newcomer Reliance Jio, however, said the auction schedule may be drawn up at the discretion of the regulator and the government, but that long-term visibility is imperative for advanced planning to be undertaken by telcos. Jio has further suggested that the telecom department should provide a forward-looking timeframe for availability of spectrum for the next 10 years across multiple bands.