Amid diverse views expressed by telecom firms like Bharti and RCom, the Department of Telecom has decided to refer regulator TRAI’s recent recommendations on spectrum-related issues to an empowered group of ministers.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended a one-time charge for spectrum held by operators beyond 6.2 Mhz and suggested that it be benchmarked with 3G spectrum prices for which auction was held recently.

“... Reference to the EGoM will be appropriate for final decision on major contentious issues such as delinking of spectrum from licence and revising the structure of licensing regime after the due deliberations in Telecom Commission,” Telecom Minister A. Raja said in his letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Prime Minister’s Office had earlier in a letter asked telecom ministry to refer the spectrum-related issues to the EGoM.

TRAI has also suggested re-framing of spectrum when the licences come for renewal entailing huge outgo for incumbent operators.

The DoT’s decision comes in the wake of difference of opinion among operators, with old GSM operators like Bharti, Vodafone and Idea Cellular opposing TRAI report saying the efficient players are being penalised.

While new operators and CDMA players like Reliance Communication (RCom) have supported the TRAI recommendations and said these are balanced and must be implemented at the earliest.

“The recommendations of the TRAI on spectrum management and licensing framework have been received in this department on May 11. Industry associations and service providers have been holding diverse views in this matter,” Mr. Raja said in the letter.

The minister said that a committee would be formed to hold detailed interactions in the DoT to examine the veracity of the recommendations of TRAI in the best interest of the country and the service providers, he added.

“Based on these recommendations, the Telecom Commission will deliberate and recommend the final decision to be taken by the Government on those issues, which are within the scope and ambit of the Telecom Commission,” the Minister said.

India’s largest mobile operator Bharti Airtel has asserted that spectrum allocation beyond 6.2 Mhz is as per the policy of the government at various times and no one-time charge was payable by the service providers.

The DoT has always maintained at various forums and on various occasions that all existing spectrum allocations have been granted strictly under the applicable law/licence conditions/guidelines/orders, Sunil Mittal-promoted company said in its recent letter to TRAI Chairman J.S. Sarma.

The issue of 6.2MHz is pending before the TDSAT. It may further be noted that the DoT in an affidavit has admitted that no spectrum in excess of what is permissible has been granted to any mobile operator.

Defending its decision to refer the matter to an EGoM, the Minister said since major policy changes proposed such as revising the structure of UASL and delinking of spectrum etc, by TRAI, will have to be taken at the level of EGoM or the Cabinet, since those decision were taken earlier by the Cabinet under the aegis of NTP ‘99.

“Any change in the letter and spirit of NTP ‘99 on licence and spectrum issues — no doubt — have to be subjected to the scrutiny of the Cabinet and Parliament,” Mr. Raja said.