DoT invokes bank guarantees for Airtel

8 Apr 2013

The Economic Times writes that sector regulator the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has invoked bank guarantees given by Bharti Aritel, as the telco has not paid an INR3.5 billion (USD63.9 million) fine imposed by the watchdog in relation to a long-standing dispute over 3G roaming agreements. The paper cites a DoT official as saying that the finance wing of the watchdog had sent notices to various banks on the matter.

As noted by TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the thorny matter of 3G roaming has been a bone of contention between operators and authorities. The practice of offering 3G services in circles where a provider does not hold spectrum via roaming agreements with other cellcos was given a green light prior to the auction of 3G spectrum in 2010, only for the watchdog to later reverse its decision. Regulators have since been battling with providers to ban the practice, though arbitration from bodies such as the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has so far been inconclusive. Most recently, the DoT renewed its offensive, instructing the offending parties to cease providing the service. A stay order on the DoT’s directive, allowing the cellcos to continue offering 3G outside of their respective circles was overturned by the Delhi High Court last week. Unconfirmed local reports claim that Bharti has been told to stop providing 3G roaming by 13 April.

The DoT has also reportedly issued notices to Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, instructing them to immediately stop providing 3G roaming, and issuing penalties of INR5.5 billion and INR3.5 billion respectively.