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DoT Reviews BSNL 2G Spectrum Expiry Term

The department of telecom (DoT) is “reconsidering” the actual term for the expiring second-generation or 2G airwaves allocated to state-controlled Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) which had been awarded a license in 2000. The government has earlier refused any consideration beyond 2020.

“The DoT is evaluating the 2G spectrum that was in-principle allocated to BSNL in 2000, and it had launched services after two years in 2002. So, going by the real service launch, BSNL would need a renewal of 2G airwaves in 2022 or 2023,” BSNL chairman Anupam Shrivastava told ET.

BSNL had received a letter of intent (LoI) for the allotment of 2G spectrum in the 900 Mhz spectrum band administratively in 2000 but it had actually launched commercial services in October 2002, while a letter of approval was granted a year later in 2003.

Considering the initial approval to BSNL in 2000, the department was adamant that radio waves would expire in 2020, after completion of a 20-year term, while the state-run telco has sought a review.

However, the Centre has to change its “firm” stand, following the recent restlessness from the 1.76 lakh BSNL employees including top management as well as their groups blaming the Narendra Modi-led government for not allowing the much-needed revival of the financially-stressed public sector telco.

The fourth-largest telco has asked renewal across the 22 telecom circles where it offers 2G telephony services on the 900 Mhz frequency band with 6.2 Mhz of the spectrum.

“One has to reapply for spectrum once it expires and it is a part of the process”, the chairman said and added that the procedure includes obtaining airwaves again at a market price.

Since the 2012 Supreme Court verdict, the administrative allocation of spectrum to private telcos has been discouraged, but according to the fourth-largest operator, a decision for similar allocation to a state-run entity requires DoT’s approval based on its thought process.

In 2000, the BSNL took over from the then Department of Telecom Services and Department of Telecom Operations and was permitted to offer telegraph services that were being offered by the two erstwhile departments.

With a total revenue close to Rs 23,000 crore, the telco is expected to post 5 to 7% lower loss in FY 2019 on the back of robust enterprise business growth and internal cost reduction measures.

BSNL’s counterpart Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) that operates in Delhi and Mumbai metropolitans, however, also contested the department that its 20-year license would expire in 2021, and not in April this year, and argued that the two licensed service areas remained underused in the first four years of its foray.

Meanwhile, the DoT has sought a legal opinion from the Attorney General (AG) on whether the state-owned MTNL could be allowed spectrum extension.

“MTNL can continue to carry out 2G services and there will be no hindrances to it”, a senior DoT official said.―Business Telegraph

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