TRAI says get spectrum from Defence, denies Govt. has no authority to ask BSNL to return unused spectrum

NEW DELHI: Expressing concern that the constrained supply of spectrum poses a real threat to the continuity of services being provided to millions of subscribers by the expiry licensees, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has reiterated its earlier recommendation for a dialogue at the level of the Ministers for Finance, Communications, Defence to ensure the availability of additional spectrum for commercial use.


In a letter to the Telecom Secretary, the Authority has said the non-availability of sufficient spectrum is the biggest impediment to the realisation of the stated goals in NTP- 2012 for broadband proliferation. The Authority re-emphasised the need to increase the supply of spectrum.


The letter was in response to the DoT’s reference of 14 November seeking some clarifications on recommendations on Valuation and Reserve Price of Spectrum Licenses expiring in 2015-16 sent on 15 October.  


There is no change in the reserve prices for spectrum in the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands from what were recommended earlier.


The   Authority reiterated that steps should be  taken to  make available additional spectrum in  the  900, 1800 and 2100 MHz bands by  taking back 1.2  MHz of 900 MHz spectrum from BSNL,  utilising idle  1800 MHz spectrum in  the  Defence band and vacating spectrum held in excess of 20 MHz by Defence in the 1800 MHz ban.


The Authority's recommendation for the implementation of E-GSM band is one of the ways to enhance the supply of 900 MHz band spectrum which is considered by operators (the market) to be the most valuable spectrum. The option needs to be given serious consideration by the government.


In the 2100 MHz band, an additional 3 blocks of 2x5 MHz of spectrum can be made available by swapping spectrum in this band with Defence which can be assigned spectrum in the 1900 MHz   band (1910-1920/1980-1990 MHz).


The spectrum in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz bands should be auctioned together (simultaneously). Uncertainty would continue if auction of spectrum in the 2100 MHz is taken up later.


The government should announce its decision on the adoption of APT700 band plan. It should also announce the roadmap for the auction of spectrum in 700 MHz band. This should be done before the conduct of the upcoming auctions in 900/1800 MHz band. These two decisions will help in the faster development of the device eco-system. It will also help TSPs to take an informed decision when bidding for the upcoming auction in 800/900/1800 MHz bands.


The Authority had recommended that 1.2 MHz spectrum in 900 MHz band should be taken back from BSNL from all the LSAs where licences expire in 2015-16 except in Punjab. In lieu, BSNL should be assigned 1.2 MHz in the 1800 MHz band only in those LSAs where its spectrum holding in that band is less than 3.8 MHz in this band i.e. in Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal. However, the DoT said it had no jurisdiction to take back spectrum from BSNL to which TRAI has said the PSUs (MTNL/BSNL) were awarded the spectrum in the 900 MHz band administratively and free of charge. Both the PSUs are government-owned companies and the government has every right to take the spectrum back from them if they are not using it optimally and efficiently. “It is inexplicable to take the stand that the government, being a sovereign and as owner of the PSU companies cannot resume spectrum given to the PSUs free of charge.” Besides, the DoT, being the licensor, has to ensure that spectrum is put to optimal use and an operator does not squat on invaluable spectrum.


In this context, TRAI said it was worth recalling that being government companies, the government assigned 3G and BWA spectrum to them without their participation in the auctions. This spectrum was literally foisted on the PSUs. Later, when they just could not use the BWA spectrum, the government allowed them to surrender BWA spectrum and decided to refund the payment made by these PSUs.


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