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TRAI-Bharti-Starlink oppose DoT-Jio’s stand to auction spectrum for space communications

Differences have emerged between the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) over the contentious issue of the allocation of spectrum for space-based communications.

DoT is sticking to its stand that spectrum for space-based communications should be auctioned and has requested the regulator to work out the modalities.

However, TRAI, which released a consultation paper titled “Assignment of Spectrum for Space Based Communications” a few days ago, has asked stakeholders to respond to questions on whether the spectrum bands for space-based communications should be auctioned or offered in an administered way or whether there can be any other alternatives, thus leaving the issue wide open. Most telcos have opposed offering spectrum at administered prices, saying that there has to be a level playing field for the same services. They argue that since they buy spectrum in an auction, space communication-based broadband, which is a similar service to customers, should also be auctioned.

But satellite companies like OneWeb, run by Sunil Mittal, have opposed the move, pointing out that globally, spectrum for space communications is not auctioned and countries provide it though an administered price mechanism.

The issue had its genesis in September 2021, when DoT sent a reference to TRAI for recommending appropriate frequency bands, block size, reserve price and quantum of spectrum to be auctioned for space-based communication services.

TRAI asked for clarifications, to which DoT said that due to the urgency of the 5G rollout, the regulator could take up the recommendations on space-based communications later, as their responses would take time.

In August last year the DoT again requested TRAI to hold consultations to assess the demand for space communications services and “accordingly provide recommendations on the quantum of spectrum in each band to be put to auction”.

It also pointed out that it has “envisaged auctioning the space spectrum on exclusive basis” and asked TRAI to look at the feasibility of sharing auctioned spectrum amongst multiple service licensees like satellite and terrestrial networks.

In a letter in October 2022, TRAI asked for a clarification from the DoT on which kind of licensed services and spectrum for space-based communications had been envisaged to be granted through auction. DoT replied that TRAI may provide suitable recommendations for each of the space-based communication services after detailed examination.

In an interview to Business Standard in November last year, communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said that the government would prefer an auction of spectrum for space communications. He had pointed out that if a fair auction process is formulated, the government would support it.

However, TRAI, in its consultation paper, has raised the question about what should be the ideal methodology for the assignment of spectrum for space-based communications. For instance, it has asked stakeholders to respond to a question on how spectrum in L and S bands as well as C , Ku and Ka bands should be assigned — the choice being auction, administered pricing, or any other method. It has asked a similar question on the assignment of spectrum for gateway links for space communication services.

The regulator has also asked stakeholders to respond on what should be the spectrum charging mechanism if it is assigned on an administrative basis for user links and gateway links. Business Standard

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