India fines Airtel $67m over 3G roaming

Dylan Bushell-Embling
18 Mar 2013
Daily News

In the latest clash between the Indian government and the telecom sector, the Department of Telecom has ordered Bharti Airtel to stop providing 3G services in seven regions.

The telecom ministry has also served Airtel with a 3.6 billion rupee ($66.6 million) fine for persisting in offering services under its disputed 3G roaming pact with rivals Vodafone and Idea Cellular, Economic Times reported.

Government officials told the paper that Vodafone and Idea will be given similar orders and served fines, but did not specify when.

Bharti Airtel has responded by petitioning the Delhi High Court against the directive. The court will hear the case today.

Due to high prices and intense competition, no operator ended up with pan-India 3G spectrum during the $15 billion 3G auction held in 2010.

Bharti Airtel won the equal largest number of licenses, in 13 of India's 22 telecom circles. Vodafone picked up 9 licenses, while Idea secured 11.

To fill the gaps, the operators reached a deal the following year to allow each to roam on the others' 3G networks in circles where they lack licenses. But the government considers such deals to be in in contravention of 3G license terms.

In various legal challenges to maintain the agreement, operators have insisted that they received oral assurances from the DoT prior to the auction that they would be able to enter such 3G roaming deals.

Operators have had only partial success with the challenges, with the law ministry recently declaring that the government is within its rights to fine and order operators to stop offering 3G services in areas where they don't have licenses.

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