India's Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has found in favor of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular in their long-running dispute against the telecom ministry over a 3G network sharing pact.
The tribunal has overturned 12 billion rupees ($198.6 million) in penalties imposed on them by the Department of Telecom (DoT) based on their 3G roaming deal, the Indian Express reported.
Vodafone, Airtel and Idea signed agreements in 2011 to allow them to use each others' 3G networks in areas where they lacked spectrum, including signing up new customers in the regions. But the DoT soon objected to the trilateral deal, insisting that it violated their 3G license terms.
The dispute came to ahead a year ago, when the ministry ordered the operators to stop offering 3G services in areas where they do not hold spectrum, and imposed large fines on the companies.
The operators appealed the case, on the grounds that they were given written assurances before bidding for 3G spectrum that such network sharing deals would be permissible. The DoT has also approved sharing deals for 2G spectrum under the terms of their universal access service licenses (USALs).
The tribunal held that it is fallacious to assert that roaming deals for 2G spectrum are permissible but deals for 3G spectrum are not, noting that there are no 2G or 3G licenses, just one USAL.
It also harshly criticized the department for providing assurances that such deals would be allowed and then reversing course.
Reliance Communications has just signed 3G roaming pacts with Tata Teleservices and Aircel, but the terms of these deals do not cover signing up new customers in each others' service areas.