A New Telecom War:: GSM lobby COAI demands mobile permits issued to Tata Teleservices be cancelled


Nov 9, 2010
A fresh war of words has broken out between the GSM operators' lobby and Tata Teleservices after the industry body representing the likes of Bharti, Vodafone and Idea, amongst others, asked finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to include the 19 permits that were granted to Tatas in the upcoming sale process.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the GSM lobby, in its communication to Mukherjee, has argued that 141 licences need to be cancelled as per the Supreme Court's February 2 order and not 122, as was interpreted by both the industry and the government. But, on late Monday evening, Tata Teleservices issued a strongly worded statement terming COAI's stance as 'misleading, totally uncalled for, false and devoid of any merit'.
"COAI is distorting the facts and attempting to present a misleading picture before the finance minister, in a bid to subserve its vested interests. Further, the letter is speculative in nature and represents a concocted story of some interested parties within COAI. Also, the contents of the letter are not borne out by judicial records and the referred judgment," a Tata Teleservices spokesperson said. The telco further added that the COAI's earlier demands on dual-tech spectrum had been rejected by the Delhi High Court and debunked by the telecom tribunal TDSAT.
Last week, Assocham had also told the telecom ministry and Trai that a total of 141 licences need to be cancelled as per the Supreme Court's February 2 order. In a related development, a Delhi-based NGO, Telecom Users Group of India, had also shot off a similar communication to the telecom department and the law ministry stating that the mobile permits issued to dual-technology holders be cancelled, because the SC had expressly quashed licences issued on or after January 10, 2008, including 19 dual-technology permits given to Tata Teleservices.
ET had first reported in February that the telecom department would seek legal opinion on the fate of 19 permits that were granted under a different set of rules to Tata Tele on the same date as the now-quashed 122 licences. The apex court's order does not specify the number of licences that have been quashed.
The government awarded additional 19 GSM licences to Tata Teleservices through the same press release that it used to award the contentious 122 licences. The January 10, 2008 press release issued by the telecom department, now annulled by the apex court, had asked all companies that had applied for fresh mobile permits before September 25, 2007, to collect their respective Letter of Intent. This release also asked companies that had sought dual technology licences to 'collect the department's response' or LoI. Subsequently, Tata Teleservices was issued LoIs for its permits on January 10, 2008. The government, in its presidential reference, has asked the Supreme Court to clarify on the status of dual technology spectrum granted by the telecom department in 2007 to cross-over telcos, such as Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices.