Sector watchdog the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has published a consultation paper on potential reforms to merger and acquisition rules, with the goal of simplifying and speeding up the process. The paper outlines the current guidelines for the transfer or merger of licenses and requests suggestions from stakeholders on how the existing rules could be changed. As noted by TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, India’s mobile market has recently undergone a second wave of consolidation but numerous takeover or merger attempts ran into regulatory delays and barriers, ultimately leading to the collapse of several operators. In most of the cases, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had required as a condition of its approval that the providers submit guarantees for one-time spectrum charges (OTSC) – the validity of which remains sub-judice – leading to a series of legal challenges that drastically extended the time period for the mergers. The TRAI’s paper highlights a submission from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), seemingly blaming the providers and the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) for the delays, stating that the operator’s petitions to the arbitration court to set aside certain conditions imposed by the DoT had ‘resulted in uncalled-for delays in mergers being taken on record.’
The document also includes input from Virtual Network Operators Association of India (VNOAI) requesting that access to networks for virtual network operators (VNOs) be made mandatory a part of conditions for mergers, to maintain competition. Under the industry group’s proposals, the merged entity would be obliged to ‘set aside 20% of wholesale capacity for MVNOs on Mobile Bitstream Access (MBA) basis’. Elsewhere, the TRAI’s highlights potential ambiguity in the text for a Unified Licence (UL), and has sought suggestions on rephrasing certain clauses to make the terms of the concession unambiguous.