Update: Bharti Airtel has moved the Supreme Court against the telecom department order to stop 3G services in circles where it does not have licence. According to reports, the apex court will hear Airtel's plea against DoT order on April 8.
Bharti Airtel is mulling further legal action following the Delhi High Court's decision to vacate the stay on ban on the operator's 3G services in circles where it did not win spectrum in 2010 auction. The operator may move the Supreme Court against the HC order.
“Bharti Airtel has always maintained the highest standards of compliance. We believe the 3G ICR arrangements are in compliance with all applicable laws and licensing conditions. These arrangements are also hugely beneficial to customers and discontinuing these will cause grave inconvenience to them. We await a copy of the order of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court and will consider appropriate legal action,” the company says in a statement after the HC order.
On March 15, the telecom department had issued a notice to Bharti Airtel asking the operator to stop providing 3G roaming services in areas where it did own a spectrum. Airtel was also slapped with a penalty of Rs. 350 crore for breaching licence guidelines.
Airtel, however, managed to get a stay order from a single-bench judge of the HC on March 18. The court then allowed the operator to provide 3G roaming services in seven circles where it did own spectrum licence, until the next hearing slate for May 8.
The stay order was contested by Reliance Communication in the High Court which led to the vacation. However, the single-bench will continue to hear the case.
It's notable the telecom department is mulling similar actions against Vodafone and Idea Cellular involved in similar 3G roaming arrangement.
According to a Financial Express report, 3G intra-circle roaming case now become complicated and is expected to see further tussle between the telecom department and telecom operators. Despite intervention of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, no clarity over the 3G roaming could be achieved. However, a DoT panel has held the 3G roaming between the operators is against the current telecom policy.
Airtel, Vodafone and Idea together have a 3G subscribers base of about 12 million in the country. Of these, Vodafone has 2.5 million while Idea has 2.8 million. The three operators have entered into agreements over sharing of 3G spectrum and offering services across each others' circles, as none of the operators have pan-India licence for 3G. While Vodafone has licence for 9 circles, Idea has for 11.
The circles where Bharti has been asked to stop 3G services are: Haryana, Maharashtra, UP (east), Kolkata, Gujarat, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.