MTNL awaiting refund; BSNL strike continues

20 Feb 2019

State-owned provider Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) is expecting to receive clearance for an INR41.3 billion (USD577.8 million) refund related to its return of broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum in 2010, and is planning an INR200 billion asset monetisation programme, the Economic Times reports, citing chairman PK Purwar. The official explained that the funds would help the debt-laden and loss-making telco’s cash flow and investment in infrastructure. Mr Purwar added that the operator has submitted a comprehensive revival plan to the government, including requests for spectrum to allow it to launch 4G, and plans for a voluntary retirement scheme – employee costs being one of the company’s largest expenses – and vacating buildings with high rental fees. For its planned 4G launch, MTNL has requested rights to spectrum in the 1800MHz band for Delhi and 2100MHz range in Mumbai.

Employees at MTNL’s sister company Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) are continuing their three-day strike, with a list of demands including a wage increase and the allocation of 4G airwaves to the cellco. A senior member of the All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) group reiterated accusations that the government was deliberately hindering BSNL for the benefit of private cellcos. The union representative argued that: ‘the non-allotment of 4G spectrum, non-approval of a land monetisation proposal submitted in May 2018 … [and] denial of permission to BSNL to avail bank loans for expansion of networks and business … are deliberate attempt of the government to destabilise BSNL.’