TDSAT strikes down ban on intra-circle 3G roaming

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In a major relief to top telecom operators – Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea – telecom tribunal TDSAT allowed them to offer 3G roaming beyond their licensed circles, disallowing a government ban on the move, while also quashing Rs 1,200-crore penalties slapped on them.

TDSAT, which was hearing petitions filed by the operators against the restriction as well as the penalties, said the roaming agreements between the operators are in compliance with regulations and would help the government realize higher revenues.

“We find and hold that the intra-circle 3G roaming arrangement does not violate any provision of the UAS (Unified Access Services) licence… and it is not open to the government to prohibit the petitioners from carrying out the services in terms of agreements,” the TDSAT bench, headed by chairman Justice Aftab Alam, said in its order.

The order is likely to see the operators not only get roaming facility but also vie for 3G subscribers in those circles despite not having spectrum. “We welcome the order and this will allow telcos to not only offer seamless roaming but also take new customers,” said Rajan Mathews, director-general of GSM lobby group COAI.

The Department of Telecom (DoT), which had disallowed the move in December 2011 and subsequently imposed penalties on the telcos, is likely to challenge the TDSAT judgment in the Supreme Court.

The TDSAT order said the prohibition on roaming is against “national interest” and will impact government earnings. The order also dubbed regulator Trai’s support to the ban as an “erroneous stand” and said there is no reason to believe that the measure will affect the exchequer’s collections.

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