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Bharti Airtel, Vodafone fume over government decision on 3G roaming pacts
TT Correspondent |  |  24 Dec 2011

The government has come in for sharp criticism by leading telcos- Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone-for nullifying 3G roaming pacts. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued a notice to these telcos declaring the 3G roaming pacts as illegal.

While Bharti Airtel has called the move as ‘arbitrary’, Vodafone termed it ‘unreasonable’ and ‘irrational’ saying it would affect the millions of its customers.  

In an statement Bharti Airtel said that t is demoralising to note that the DoT' took the decision without following any principle of natural justice as no opportunity of hearing has been provided to us before arriving at this decisiont is demoralising to note that the DoT's decision has been arrived at without following any principle of natural justice as no opportunity of hearing has been provided to us before arriving at this decision.

The full text of Bharti Airtel statement


We are shocked at the arbitrary decision taken by the Department of Telecom (DoT) to issue instructions to stop intra circle roaming (ICR) for 3G services among the telecom operators. 

This is despite DoT having clarified on the matter prior to the 3G spectrum auction in 2010. The query by the operators was - “After 3G auctions not all existing UASL licensees will hold 3G spectrum in any licensed areas due to the limited 3G blocks on offer. Will customers of UASL licenses who do not hold 3G spectrum be allowed to roam on the 3G networks of other USALs in the same licensed area?” To which the DoT clarified that “the roaming policy is applicable to the licenses and not to specific spectrum bands. Hence, roaming will be permitted.”We fail to understand how the DoT can recant from its own clarification and take this drastic decision affecting millions of mobile subscribers seeking access to broadband services in India. 

It is demoralising to note that the DoT's decision has been arrived at without following any principle of natural justice as no opportunity of hearing has been provided to us before arriving at this decision. It is even more painful to note how the written action by DoT has been delayed till Friday evening fully knowing that any legal recourse needs court working days. To add to our and customer's dismay compliance is being forced within 24 hours without stating why this haste! We are sure it is well understood by all industry stakeholders that to unwind a strategic deployment like ICR, expert  intervention is required as multiple aspects of CRM, network and IT are at play. More importantly customers have to be informed and their financial commitment towards the service has to be protected, as per the regulation. The ICR arrangements between Bharti, Vodafone and Idea were brought to the notice of DoT, TRAI and other related agencies before launching our 3G ICR services. The DoT's decision months after the launch of 3G ICR roaming services violates the principle of natural justice and is to say the least illegal.


The Government's stated objective has been the proliferation of broadband and 3G services to the far flung areas of the country particularly rural areas. The DoT decision is a retrograde step as it will adversely impact the proliferation of broadband penetration, depriving millions of people in rural and urban India from affordable and quality telecom services.


The reverse stance taken by the DoT from its earlier stated position sends a wrong signal, not only within the telecom industry but to the entire business community looking for a stable and transparent policy regime. The Indian telecom sector has been a shining example of India’s growth story post the economic reforms, and has attracted billions of dollars in investments from domestic as well as international players. This decision is tantamount to reneging on a promise. This will severely dent the credibility of the Government and adversely impact the much needed investments in the sector as well as the country. Bharti Airtel will take appropriate recourse to protect its rights.


Full text of Vodafone statement


"We received the notification from DoT after normal business hours today. We think that this decision of DoT is completely unreasonable. As stated earlier, the 3G roaming agreements that Vodafone has entered into with other operators are in complete compliance with all Government rules and regulations and this issue was specifically clarified by DoT before the 3G auction was held. Based on this clarification, we went into the auction in good faith. Now, to completely reverse the stand, is totally irrational. It is going to affect millions of our customers adversely and we think it is a retrograde step by DoT. Also, giving a notice at this late hour with courts having gone on vacation from this afternoon is totally arbitrary.   We will take suitable course of action to protect our consumers' interest."

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24 Dec 2011(IST)  
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