‘Telcos Can Retain Licence After Closure’
But must inform users about plan in advance, return spectrum won without participating in auction: Trai
New Delhi: A telecom carrier can shut services without surrendering its licence, but must immediately return the spectrum it got without participating in an auction as well as inform customers about the plan 30 days in advance, the sector regulator has suggested. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) also recommended rules making it compulsory for companies to give a 60-day notice to the regulator and the telecom department if they want to move to a different technology or close down operations by selling airwaves. It also suggested a tweak in spectrum trading rules to give the timeline for the pro- cess, as well as a change in the definition of mobile number portability to exclude from its purview those switching from one technology to another within the same operator. These recommendations are aimed at streamlining the process for companies that want to shut operations as well as ease user pain points.
DoT can reject requests to close down a service ‘only when warranted’ in the interest of the public or national security, or in the event of national emergencies like war, Trai said.
Currently, there are several exit options available for telcos, including trading or outright sale of airwaves, non-renewal of spectrum, moving to a different technology or by ending a sha- ring agreement.
Recently, there have been cases where due to trading of spectrum and upgrading of technology, there has been discontinuity of services to the subscribers, Trai said while issuing its recommendations on Monday. “Certain issues arose due to these events,” it said, without specifying the issues.
A Trai official said it got consumer feedback on its portal specifying issues of disruption in service due to closure. The recommendations, which will go to DoT for a final say, come at a time when several mergers and acquisitions are underway, which will eventually lead to closure of service for some carriers like Telenor India and Videocon whose airwaves are being bought by Bharti Airtel. Besides, Reliance Communications-SistemaAircel and Vodafone IndiaIdea Cellular are involved in merger processes.
“If a UAS (Unified Access Service) licensee decides to close down its wireless access services, which were being provided through the administratively assigned spectrum, for which it has not paid the market discovered price, it must surrender such spectrum immediately upon closure of wireless access services,” the regulator said. India started auctioning bandwidth in 2010, and before that airwaves were allocated for a fixed price and were termed administratively assigned spectrum.
The regulator has also suggested tweaking the spectrum trading guidelines to include timelines for DoT to raise any objections and demand dues. DoT can be given 15 days to flag objections, instead of 14 days or two weeks before, it said. The trading parties should also get the same time to respond.