Mobile operators call on RTI Act
Surajeet Das Gupta / New Delhi December 3, 2007
Ask for file notings on dual spectrum, new licence issues.
Incumbent mobile operators and applicants for new licences have found a new weapon to fight their rivals on the contentious issue of licensing and spectrum allocation: the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Providers of GSM-technology services, which account for the bulk of mobile services in the country, have filed half a dozen applications under the RTI Act.
The applications have included notings and discussions on the basis of which the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and the Telecom Engineering Centre, the ministry’s technical advisory arm, prepared their recommendations on raising minimum subscriber numbers for operators to qualify for additional spectrum.
Another application has asked for details on all potential applicants who have applied for fresh licences. As many as 29 companies have applied for fresh licences and incumbents suspect that several are front companies for existing competitors.
Operators of GSM and CDMA technology mobile services have been locked in controversy both with each other and with the government over allocation of spectrum, the radio frequencies that enable wireless communications.
Spectrum has been in short supply for some time and has put service providers under pressure as subscriber numbers grow as a rapid pace.
The defence services have been slow to surrender spectrum available with them and several operators have been granted spectrum by the government above their contractual obligations.
Significantly, GSM operators have also asked for notings on the files that dealt with the government decision to allow the policy of dual-use spectrum – that is, for both GSM and CDMA services within the same licence.
The move has principally benefited Reliance Communications (RCom), the country’s largest CDMA service provider, which was granted in-principle approval for GSM spectrum.
GSM lobby Cellular Operators of India (COAI) has already appealed the decision to the telecom tribunal, describing it as “malafide” and non-transparent.
COAI has alleged that the government announced the policy on November 19, a day after granting RCom in-principle. The Anil Ambani-controlled company then applied for GSM spectrum on November 19 and paid a licence fee of Rs 1,580 crore the same day.
In their application to the RTI, GSM operators have also asked for notings on the files of the department of telecom (DoT) on these two crucial days.
Confirming the development a senior member of the COAI said: "Yes, our members have filed RTI applications because we want to know the truth.”
He added that the association has publicly stated that it is worried about the antecedents of many of the players who have applied for licences especially as they suspect some of them are fronts for existing telecom companies.
Meanwhile, new applicants have asked the RTI offices for copies of the approval for fresh letters of intent.
They have based their request on their understanding that Communications minister A Raja has already approved the issue of fresh letters of intent to all applicants who had filed their applications till September 25.
Despite this, DoT has been sitting for over a month and has taken no action.
The application has also asked for notings on the files made about all issues related to the issue of fresh letters of intent by the DoT officers concerned.
Mobile operators call on RTI Act=