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Centre to seek SC’s clarification for spectrum allocation for satellite players

The Centre is likely to seek a clarification from the apex court to “avoid any confrontation” in a bid to determine spectrum allocation sans auction for satellite communications or satcom usage as the rivalry in the yet-to-boom sector hots up.

“We are looking to move to the Supreme Court to seek some clarity on the issue of spectrum allocation to satellite players in line with the 2012 verdict,” a Department of Telecommunications (DoT) official told ETTelecom, adding that the “crucial matter” is being deliberated internally.

Spectrum allocation to satellite technology players has been a contentious issue between aspiring space broadband players and terrestrial network operators with the former seeking satellite-based bandwidth without putting it on sale.

In 2012, the Supreme Court of India, in a landmark 2G verdict noted that being a natural resource, airwaves can’t be allocated administratively, and that it was required to undergo an auctioneering process, adding that spectrum could be made available only through market-driven process.

Natural resources belong to the people but the state legally owns them on behalf of its people and from that point of view natural resources are considered as national assets, more so because the state benefits immensely from their value, justice GS Singhvi and justice Asok Kumar Ganguly bench ruled, adding that the state is bound to act in consonance with the principles of equality and public trust and ensure that no action is taken which may be detrimental to public interest.

The top court eventually quashed 122 telecom licenses obtained through first-come-first-serve (FCFS) policy under the Manmohan Singh regime.

Later in September 2012, a five-member bench opined that the previous verdict was not intended to analyse the scope of all natural resources, and auction may not be the sole criteria for alienation of natural resources.

The official further said that the department would not want to stir any controversy in such a sensitive matter that may be deemed as a contempt of court.

Industry experts say that a similar set of rules shall apply to the same service ensuring a level-playing field.

The satcom players are eying spectrum in the Ka, Ku, C and L bands for commercial satellite broadband services competing with incumbent telecom service providers who have deployed terrestrial networks.

Drawing a distinction between terrestrial and satellite networks, Sunil Bharti Maittal, who recently forayed into satcom business via a stake in OneWeb, the UK-based low-earth orbit (LEO) constellation company, said that there was “absolutely no case for auctioning” of satellite spectrum, and doing so would not be in tune with norms worldwide.

Mittal-backed Bharti Global is expected to spend more than $1 billion in its satellite broadband ambition.

Elon Musk-owned Starlink and Jeff Bezos-headed Amazon’s Project Kuiper are also on track to launch satellite broadband services worldwide including India triggering an intense rivalry in the developing space sector.

In a first-ever comment, billionaire Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Jio recently said that SatCom (satellite communications) technology providers while offering affordable high gigabits of throughput across India by partnering with local entities, should conform to the same service-same rules.

Bharti Airtel, a part of Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises, is Jio, a subsidiary of oil-to-logistics congomerate Reliance Industries arch rival in India’s telecom space. B2BChief

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