The Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TERM) unit of India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has reportedly ruled that the roaming agreements struck between Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar and Idea Cellular for their respective third-generation networks are ‘illegal’. According to India’s Economic Times the regulator’s internal unit has called for action to be initiated against all three mobile network operators, including the issue of show-cause notices and the imposition of financial penalties. Should the government act on such recommendations then the cellcos involved could face fines of INR500 million (USD10 million) for each circle where 3G roaming agreements have been entered into. Airtel, Vodafone and Idea signed agreements under which each would allow each other access to their respective 3G infrastructure, in effect allowing all three to offer pan-India third-generation services, in July 2011.
The development comes hot on the heels of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) having sought the DoT’s opinion on the disputed 3G roaming agreements, with the vigilance body having asked the regulator to ascertain if such deals are allowed under the terms of the operator’s respective concessions. Further, the CVC has requested that the DoT examine if these agreements amounted to spectrum sharing or offering services as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), neither of is which currently permitted under existing telecoms legislation.
As previously reported by CommsUpdate, at the end of last month it was revealed that the roaming pacts agreed between the cellcos were to be examined by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). It was claimed that the regulator would seek information from those cellcos that have struck such deals with a view to ensuring that there is no violation of licence terms and conditions, while the TRAI was also understood to be looking at how 3G services are being sold under such agreements. The move by the regulator’s to examine the matter came in response to several telcos – including Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), Aircel and Tata Teleservices – had sought clarity before entering into similar roaming agreements.