India roundup: Loop urges DoT for green light on takeover; Vodafone calls for taxes on OTT

15 Oct 2014

In an effort to ensure that its acquisition by Bharti Airtel goes ahead, Loop Mobile has written to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) offering to change elements of the deal to hasten its approval, the Economic Times reports. The Mumbai-based cellco agreed to transfer its customers and its equipment to Airtel in February this year, as mounting debt problems prevented the operator from bidding to renew its licence, which expires on 29 November. Under the original deal, Loop agreed to transfer its subscribers and equipment to Airtel, but with the termination of its licence looming, Loop has suggested simply transferring its users to Airtel. In a letter to the regulator, Sandip Basu, Loop’s managing director said: ‘due [to] the paucity of time and to facilitate an expeditious approval, we now propose to transfer/migrate Loop’s subscribers only to Airtel, excluding the telecom network equipment.’ As previously noted by CommsUpdate, the transaction has been delayed by objections from ZTE and Vodafone over unpaid dues and opposition from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which suggested that the acquisition violated mobile number portability (MNP) rules.

Meanwhile, Bharti Airtel has rolled out 2G mobile services to the Bomdila, Jameri, Zero Point and Tenga Valley areas of Arunachal Pradesh, becoming the first privately-owned provider to serve the areas.

Elsewhere, UK-backed cellco Vodafone has called on the government to tax over-the-top (OTT) service providers such as WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook, claiming that they are getting a ‘free ride’ on networks without paying any fees. The operator’s CEO Marten Pieters told the Times of India that the government needs to find a way to level the playing field: ‘We have to pay taxes, licence fees and have to share revenue [with the government]. The other guys have a completely free ride.’ OTT operators compete directly with telcos, offering messaging and voice services, but are not bound by the same licencing constraints or rules as network operators. CommsUpdate reported in August this year that the TRAI has decided not to regulate OTT services for the moment, taking the stance that providers can offset the loss of revenue from traditional voice and messaging services through growth in turnover from data.