Fears Over 3G Fee Fairness

7:25 AM -- Worried that the financial woes of the state-owned operators might lead to a last-minute alteration of the 3G spectrum auction rules, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has written to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) seeking assurance that Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) will be required to match the final price for a pan-India 3G license and pay at the same times as their rivals.

The move follows an Economic Times report that the government might allow BSNL to pay its 3G spectrum fees over a two-year period, while its rivals will have just 10 days from the end of the auction to cough up.

BSNL has just suffered its first full year financial loss and might struggle to find the money to pay for its 3G spectrum. The report suggests BSNL might be given extra time while it undertakes a restructuring process, a suggestion that has angered the other carriers. (See Is BSNL in Revamp Mode?)

BSNL and MTNL were handed their 3G spectrum early and are already offering 3G services, so they already have an advantage over their privately held rivals, with BSNL announcing recently it had achieved 1 million 3G customers. The COAI is now trying to ensure a level playing field for all operators and see that the 3G auction rules are followed. (See India 3G: BSNL Hits 1M.)

The 3G auction is still going on, and after 23 days the price of a pan-India license has reached 113.27 billion Indian rupees (US$2.49 billion).

The COAI's letter writers have been busy recently, as the Association has also been representing its operator members in the current spat over equipment purchase orders. (See Huawei Seeks Talks Over Indian Lockdown and India's DoT Denies Blanket Ban on Chinese Gear.)

— Gagandeep Kaur, India Editor, Light Reading

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