Telecom Ministry to charge for spectrum

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A. Raja
A. Raja

R.K. Radhakrishnan

Operators must pay Rs.100 crore-200 crore per Mega hertz: Raja

CHENNAI: The Telecommunications Ministry will charge mobile phone service providers for the spectrum allocated to them. It is not satisfied with the “paltry sum” they are now paying, Minister for Telecommunications and Information Technology, A. Raja told The Hindu on Wednesday.

“Telecom operators have to pay for spectrum. This will also be applicable to the spectrum that they hold now,” he said. DOT provides radio spectrum for providing mobile services to wireless operating licence holders for GSM and CDMA services. The money the operators paid now by way of Adjusted Gross Revenue per annum was too little. “Why should they get spectrum free? They [the operators] should pay between Rs.100 crore and Rs.200 crore for each Mega hertz,” the Minister stated. The Telecom Ministry will make an announcement on this issue once all the details are finalised. This is the first time that such a levy is being enforced and it is part of the efforts to increase revenue.

The Union Cabinet had cleared a proposal to allot a maximum of 6.2 MHz to each operator. Spectrum of 4.4 MHz for GSM licence holders and 2.5 MHz for CDMA-based technology operators is provided initially. Additional spectrum is provided to operators based on the number of subscribers, availability of spectrum, optimal use of spectrum, competition, and the public interest, Mr. Raja added.

Responding to the allegation that he had caused huge losses to the government because of his stand on 2 G spectrum, Mr. Raja asserted that it was not possible to auction 2G spectrum. “I have recorded in the Lok Sabha that I was unable to auction [spectrum for] 2G. This was because successive Ministers from 1993 to 2005 have given it on an allotment basis. I cannot change that now. It was because of this that the department decided to continue with the existing policy [first-come-first-served] for applications received up to the cut-off date, September 25, 2007.”

“What I can change, I am doing in 3G,” he said, adding that he had ended up creating very powerful enemies because of his insistence on auction. He was trying to conduct a transparent auction for 3G spectrum despite TRAI recommending that it could be given to existing operators.

Additional spectrum

Many operators in the country had spectrum in excess of the 6.2 MHz that could be allocated. These operators had taken the “TRAI route” to gain additional spectrum. TRAI specifies that piece-meal allotment of 1 MHz could be done if the operator had a certain number of subscribers. Based on this recommendation, operators applied for spectrum and received it too.

While it was for the Cabinet to take a view on this, Mr.Raja said that he was of the firm view that operators had to pay for this additional spectrum too. “I understand that there was a need for additional spectrum because of the large number of subscribers. But the question is whether the entire spectrum is required to cater to the existing number of subscribers.”

Mr. Raja pointed out that the Telecom Ministry was the sole custodian of spectrum as per the Telegraph Act. “There is spectrum available and it is ridiculous to say that there is none.” He released additional spectrum in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh recently. “If there was no spectrum available, how can I release it?”



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