The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on Tuesday allowed three top mobile operators — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular — to continue with their 3G intra-circle roaming (ICR) pact and provide roaming services to their customers. It quashed a cumulative penalty worth Rs.1,200 crore imposed on the three operators by the Department of Telecom for violating a licence agreement.

In its order, the TDSAT bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam ruled that the 3G ICR agreement signed by Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular was not in violation of the licence agreement. It allowed them to continue providing roaming services to their 3G customers as per the agreement signed between them.

After winning the 3G spectrum in 2010 auction, Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular had signed the ICR pact. While Airtel had won 3G-spectrum rights in 13 of the 22 telecom circles, Idea Cellular and Vodafone had bagged the rights for 11 and 9 circles respectively. As per the ICR pact, Airtel had sought access to Vodafone’s 3G network in four circles — Maharashtra, Kolkata, Haryana and UP-East. Similarly, Vodafone got access to six 3G circles of Airtel — Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, North-East, Rajasthan and UP-West — besides seven circles of Idea Cellular — Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, UP-West and Punjab. Idea Cellular also got access to provide 3G service using Vodafone’s network in Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Chennai and Kolkata.

The three operators first moved TDSAT challenging the DoT notice in December 2011. In July 2012, TDSAT gave a split verdict where one of the bench members ruled in favour and another member was against it.

Soon DoT issued notice to telecom operators asking them to stop 3G ICR service and imposed a Rs.1,200 crore penalty. The three operators moved the Delhi High Court that ruled in DoT’s favour. They then filed case in the Supreme Court, which again ordered the case to be transferred to TDSAT in September 2013.

Welcoming the TDSAT order, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said it would benefit 3G customers. “TDSAT had recognised the stand of telecom operators on the basis of which they made aggressive bids for 3G spectrum...They can now invest in network coverage,” said COAI Director General Rajan S. Mathews.

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