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India DoT urges extension of 2G shutdown deadline

India's department of telecommunications asks the Supreme Court to defer its January deadline of closing 2G networks till March, which will allow affected telcos without new licenses to continue operations in the interim.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

India's telecoms department (DoT) has approached the Supreme Court to defer its Jan. 18 deadline for affected telcos to shut down their 2G mobile networks, till the next round of spectrum auctions in March.

The Economic Times reported Wednesday that the DoT said in its affidavit it plans to have another round of airwaves auction beginning Mar. 11 this year, where GSM airwaves in the 1800 MHz (megahertz) and 900 MHz bands and CDMA airwaves in the 800 MHz band would be sold.

The DoT also said if the Supreme Court were to extend the permits of the mobile operators, the government will issue temporary licenses to these operators.

The Jan. 18 deadline was mandated by the Supreme Court, which had revoked all existing 122 2G licenses of various telcos back in February last year, and ordered the airwaves be put back up for auction. After months of delays and deadline extensions, two auctions were held in November but to poor response, leaving some telcos without new permits to continue operations after Jan. 18. The CDMA auction was also scrapped because applicants pulled out, leaving only the GSM auction that went through.

The Economic Times report noted if DoT's request for the deadline extension is cleared, it will be a lifeline to affected telcos such as the Indian units of Russia's Sistema and Norway's Telenor. It will also allow other players such as Tata Teleservices to continue operations in telecom zones where they failed to win airwaves during the November auction.

Russian conglomerate Sistema's local unit, Sistema Shyam Teleservices (SSTL), has over 16 million subscribers, and lost 21 out of its existing 22 permits due to the Supreme Court's action. It not participate in the November auction, maintaining its stance that being a pure-play CDMA operator, its legal case differed from GSM carriers which permits the Supreme Court cancelled, the report pointed out.

Sistema is also awaiting the outcome of a court petition it filed last May to have its licenses reinstated, which the Supreme Court will hear on Jan. 10, the report added.

According to DoT's affidavit, if telcos are successful in the next round of auctions, they will be charged retrospectively for airwaves from Dec. 19--the date that is applicable to the winners from the November auction. "Such an arrangement will avoid disruption of services to the subscribers on one hand and safeguard public revenue on the other, and also give an opportunity to service providers to serve their subscribers uninterruptedly," DoT said.

Earlier this week, an Indian ministerial panel recommended a 30 percent or 50 percent cut in the reserve price for CDMA airwaves regarding the auction that is scheduled to commence Mar. 11, the report said.

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