Airtel moves High Court against DoT on 3G roaming

In its petition, Bharti Airtel said the "decision of DoT is against the public interest as it adversely affects the interest of the customers and the subscribers who are benefiting from the 3G arrangements."

New Delhi: Telecom service provider Bharti Airtel Monday moved the Delhi High Court against the Department of Telecommunication's (DoT) notice asking telecom firms to stop intra-circle 3G roaming services.

In its petition, Bharti Airtel said the "decision of DoT is against the public interest as it adversely affects the interest of the customers and the subscribers who are benefiting from the 3G arrangements."

"The impugned decision of the DoT is violative of the fundamental right under Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution as it is arbitrary, has no rational basis, is illogical and is contrary to the contract between the parties," the petition said.

The plea sought quashing of the government's September 28, 2012 decision directing the service providers to stop providing intra-circle roaming (ICR) services and alleged that the decision is contrary to the interim orders passed by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

The Tribunal earlier had restrained the DoT from taking any coercive step against the firms while hearing a plea against DoT's similar communication issued in December 2011.

Claiming that Bharti Airtel has successfully bid at the 3G spectrum auction and has made significant investments, the plea said "The impugned decision will violate rights of the petitioner under Article 19 (1)(g) of the Constitution of India, the petitioner (Airtel) having successfully bid at the 3G spectrum auction and having made significant investments. This will also adversely affect level-playing field conditions."

"The DoT's decision is contrary to the national and public interest as the rights of millions of subscribers, enjoying the facility of 3G roaming due to the ICR arrangements will be affected," as per the petition.

In its petition, Airtel accused the DoT of taking the decision to ask telecom service providers to stop intra-circle 3G roaming services in "undue haste."

"The decision was passed in undue haste and results in abrupt stoppage of service, which is detrimental to the interests of subscribers. This is against DoT policy which is to connect the unconnected, whereas this decision attempts to disconnect the connected," said the Airtel.

Various telecom operators had entered into roaming agreements with other service providers to offer 3G services such as video calling, mobile TV and multi-media gaming in areas where they did not have the 3G spectrum.

The DoT had asked the operators last year to terminate their 3G roaming agreements terming the same as "illegal." The department had also said the government was losing revenue because of these agreements.

On December 23, 2011, the DoT had issued a communication instructing various telecom service providers including the Bharti Airtel to immediately stop providing the intra circle roaming service in all service area, said the petition.

The operators, however, had moved the tribunal (TDSAT) challenging the DoT order, saying it would harm customers and investment in the sector. In July this year, the tribunal had delivered a split verdict.

While one member of the two-member bench favoured the DoT's claim that roaming agreements were illegal, the other supported the operators who had challenged it.

In its plea to the high court, Bharti Airtel said after the split verdict from TDSAT in July this year, a third member has been appointed to hear the matter and a final decision is yet to come and, accordingly, DoT was wrong in issuing another communication in September 2012 when the matter is not finally disposed of.

"TDSAT passed split verdict and resultantly the matter is pending before the court and it has not been disposed of. Thus the interim order passed by TDSAT and confirmed by this court (the Delhi High Court in February 2012) continues to remain in force and the DoT cannot take any step to restrain the petitioner from acting upon the 3G ICR arrangements," the petitioner said.


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