Indian operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Tata Teleservices have demanded their 3G licence fees be returned if their intra-circle roaming pacts are considered illegal, reports the Business Standard. In a letter to India's telecommunication minister Kapil Sibal, top executives of these companies said they were assured by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that bidding in the 3G auction took place with the clear understanding that such agreements were legal and permissible.
Any determination now that this might not be the case would fundamentally alter the legal and economic basis on which the business case for 3G bids were evaluated, according to the operators' letter. The letter was signed by Sanjay Kapoor, Bharti Airtel's chief executive for India and South Asia; Himanshu Kapania, managing director of Idea Cellular; Srinath N, Tata Teleservices' managing director; and Vodafone India's managing director and chief executive, Marten Pieters.
The top three companies, Airtel, Vodafone and Idea, have signed a pact to mutually provide 3G services in areas where they do not hold 3G spectrum rights. However, part of the DoT and the telecoms regulator Trai have since questioned the legality of the roaming agreement, as it may allow the operators to provide 3G services without paying the necessary fees for the spectrum. The government is currently seeking legal advice before taking a final decision on the agreement's legality. In the letter, the companies quoted the DoT's answer to the operators regarding roaming, that the roaming policy is applicable to the licences and not to the specific spectrum bands, and roaming will be permitted.