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07 April, 2020, 12:28 PM IST

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Department of Telecommunications may move SC against moratorium on Aircel spectrum

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  • Telecom giant, Vodafone Idea, in an advisory, said it has activated pandemic response plan with risk mitigation protocols while ensuring continuity of mission critical processes, to ensure uptime and smooth running of telecom networks, classified as essential services.

    In a letter dated March 23, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) had said, “Due to unforeseen situation in wake of COVID-19, it has been decided that the audit process conducted by LSA field units in respect of EMR (electromagnetic radiation) and CAF (subscriber verification) shall be kept in abeyance till 31.03.2020.”

    The three private telcos have obtained approvals from the DoT to ensure critical workers manning their NoCs – the brains of any mobile communications network – can freely travel amid the pandemic-induced countrywide lockdowns to resolve network-related glitches at a time when bulk of corporate staff across India is working from home.

    “There have been no notices sent to telcos on their AGR payments or any discussions on it. Now, the focus of the Department of Telecommunications is on how to ensure smooth running of operations during the coronavirus pandemic,” said a government official who did not want to be identified.

    According to senior executives in the sector, letters were sent to the DoT and Trai on Saturday. “Telcos do not want customers getting charged for accessing necessary sites, including government ones or banking sites until restrictions to prevent Covid-19 are lifted,” said a senior telecom executive, who did not wish to be identified.

    “The incumbents that are battling the tough situation of AGR (Adjusted Gross Revenue) payments are likely to move at a slow pace with their investment plans towards 5G with the current low level of ARPU (Average Revenue Per User),” the ratings agency said in a sector update on Monday.

    On Wednesday, the apex court rejected the telcos' self-assessed adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues and ordered them to pay the principal together with interest and penalties. Telecom companies such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata have still owes Rs 82,300 crore to the telecom department.

    Replying to supplementary queries during Question Hour, Minister of State for Telecom Sanjay Shamrao Dhotre said there has been a lot of improvement in call drops in the last three-four years and TRAI has introduced parameters for disincentive to telecom companies and a fine of over Rs 2.5 crore has been recovered from them.

    The Department of Telecom's plea seeking 20 years time for operators to pay adjusted gross revenue dues was approved by the Cabinet, Union minister Sanjay Dhotre informed Parliament on Thursday.

    DoT added that it will not access call content, names etc of the subscribers. It termed the exercise as “an innovative way of identifying call drops and addressing the call drop issues. It will be appreciated that in the above exercise, there is no violation of privacy of any subscriber”.

    Airtel, Voda Idea & Tata Group's self-assessment of AGR are Rs 82,300 crore short of DoT estimate.

    A three-judge bench led by Justice Arun Mishra, and comprising Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and M.R. Shah will also hear an application by consumers rights body Save Consumer Rights Foundation, opposing the government’s proposal for staggered payment of AGR dues.

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