DELHI HIGH COURT ISSUES NOTICES TO TRAI, RCOM & TATAS

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The battle for spectrum shows no sign of ending. The Delhi High Court has issued notices to the Union government, telecom regulator Trai, Reliance Communication and Tata Teleservices among others on a petition filed by the GSM industry body - Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) - challenging the telecom tribunal's decision not to grant a stay on allocation of spectrum and licenses to new entrants. Justice Gita Mittal also sought a response from other telcos such as HFCL, Shyam Telelink, BSNL and MTNL on this issue within a week and a rejoinder, if any, within a week thereafter. At the same time, the High Court refrained from staying the allotment of spectrum to new entrants including CDMA players such as Reliance Communications (RCOM), who want to offer services on the GSM platform. It, however, added a rider and said that any allotment of spectrum by the centre to RCOM, would be subject to the outcome of the writ petition filed by the COAI.

"Anything done by (the Centre) in furtherance of an application made by Reliance will be subject to the outcome of this writ petition," Justice Gita Mittal said. Besides, the Court also added that in case of any crossover allotment of spectrum (where a CDMA player is allotted GSM spectrum or vice-versa under the dual technology licence), the petitioners have the liberty to come back to the Court for relief. The HC will next hear the matter again on January 31. GSM players have been demanding a stay on the current policy stating that it was tweaked to benefit RCOM. They have also demand a probe into the government's move to permit operators to provide services using dual technology (both CDMA and GSM).

Appearing on behalf of the government, Solicitor General Goolam E Vahanvati assured the Court that the government will first allocate additional spectrum to existing GSM players for their expansion, then cater to allotting start-up spectrum (to those operators who want to expand their networks across the country) and only after this allot cross-over spectrum to CDMA players who want to provide GSM services. The counsel for RCOM, which had applied for GSM spectrum under the dual technology policy, however submitted that the company had applied for GSM spectrum way back in February 2006. The court then directed the Centre to produce the application filed by RCOM in February 2006. Representing the COAI, senior advocate, Ram Jethmalani questioned the events of 18/19 October 2007 (when the government approved the dual technology license) and the undue haste and hurry in which an "in-principle approval" was given to RCOM even before the new policy was publicly announced.

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