Law ministry

Single spectrum load: DoT and Justice Department support withdrawal from court cases

If the Department of Telecommunications is able to withdraw the case relating to the single spectrum fees (OTSC) in the amount of Rs 40,000 crore against the telecommunications operators, for which it is actively discussing with the ministry of the law, then he could succeed in burying the legacy problems of the sector.

The beneficiaries would be Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, because Reliance Jio is not an incumbent operator. Sources told FE that the Justice Department gave a favorable opinion to the DoT; however, there are some issues that need to be addressed first.

The latest progress on this front would be known on November 17 when the case goes to the Supreme Court. Last month, the DoT asked the Supreme Court for a three-week delay because it wanted to reconsider the CSTO case as the telecommunications industry struggled financially. However, the court said the DoT’s decision to withdraw the case must “satisfy the court” as it is a matter of “public money”.

The OTSC case dates back to 2008 and is pending before various high courts, with the exception of the SC.

The charge was levied by the DoT on operators for holding excess spectrum – above 4.4 MHz – which is called OTSC.

The decision to impose the CSTO was taken by the United Progressive Alliance government following 122 2G licenses granted by Telecommunications Minister Raja in January 2008. The licenses were revoked in February 2012 by the court supreme, but the fury it aroused as these were granted at rates of Rs 1,658 crore in 2001 and the government decided to charge for spectrum given to operators in excess of the amount contracted through administrative orders.

Before 2010, the operators obtained a spectrum of 4.4 Mhz bundled with licenses and the following sections reached certain levels of subscribers.

The government had claimed that it was contractually obligated to provide only 4.4 MHz, which came with the licenses, and that it was free to charge the additional amount allocated. At that time, most operators held either 6.2 MHz or more, or even 10 MHz. Operators had opposed the government’s decision to charge for excess spectrum, saying that since they were paying higher spectrum usage fees for spectrum above 6.2 MHz, any OTSC was not therefore not legitimate. However, this was rejected by the government, which increased the demand.

In July 2019, the Telecommunications Dispute Settlement and Appeal Tribunal (TDSAT) ruled that the DoT could only bill for spectrum administratively allocated to these companies above 6.2 MHz and not 4.4 MHz. .

The telecommunications tribunal had declared that this levy cannot be collected retroactively, i.e. on 1.7.2008, the date on which a decision to this effect was taken by the government but can only be collected prospectively, i.e. on the 1st January 2013, when the government notified this decision.

Last year, SC refused to stay the court order.

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