Millennium Post

Govt to start 2G telecom spectrum auction today

The government will begin the auction for telecom spectrum on Monday, through which it is hoping to meet Rs 40,000 crore revenue target. The auction for the airwaves or frequencies freed from the cancellation of 122 telecom licenses, belonging to mainly eight companies, by the Supreme Court in February, will start at 900 am.

'We have taken quick decisions, firm decisions in the telecom sector. The result of which is that we are in process of auction. The 12th of November that auction will start,' Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said .

The canceled permits included Uninor's 22 licences, Loop Telecom (21), Sistema Shyam (21), Idea Cellular including Spice Communications (13), Videocon (21), Etisalat DB formerly Swan Telecom (15), S-Tel (6) and Tata Teleservices (3 CDMA licences).

Instead of auctioning entire spectrum freed from cancellation of licences, the government is auctioning a maximum of 11 blocks of airwaves frequencies in each circle, barring Delhi and Mumbai where there are only eight blocks, to attract high price for spectrum.

The apex court had allowed the companies whose permits were cancelled to get spectrum reallocated for continuing their business if they win rights for the airwaves frequencies in the auction. The government has fixed a starting price for spectrum in the auction at Rs 14,000 crore for 5 Mhz of GSM spectrum on a pan-India level, which is around seven times more than the price of Rs 1,658 crore at which telecom companies were given pan-India permits between 2001 to 2008.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has estimated that allotment of permits in 2008 at 2001 prices caused a loss to government exchequer to the tune of around Rs 1,76,000 crore. Out of eight companies whose licences were canceled, only three companies — Idea Cellular, Videocon and Telenor (majority stakeholder in Uninor) — have submitted bids for auction of airwaves frequencies.

These companies will have to win at least 5 Mhz of spectrum, divided in blocks of 1.25 Mhz each, to continue their services in areas where their licences were canceled.

Telecom majors Airtel and Vodafone too are participating in the auction to buy additional airwaves frequencies. These players can bid for a maximum of two blocks in a telecom area.

Since there has been partial impact on permits of Idea Cellular, the company will need to bid for at least four blocks of spectrum, amounting to 5 Mhz of airwaves, in seven telecom circles to continue its operations.

These circles include Tamil Nadu (including Chennai), Kolkata, West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, the North-East and the Jammu and Kashmir service areas. In the rest of the circle, Idea Cellular can bid for a maximum of two blocks only like Airtel and Vodafone.

Industry experts, however, are pessimistic over whether the auction can fetch the government the Rs 40,000 crore target it seeks to achieve by selling spectrum.

'The government itself recognises that it is not going to get anywhere near Rs 40,000 crore and will be lucky if it gets half that amount.

So we think that somewhere between Rs 19,000 crore and Rs 20,000 crore might be the amount that the government will actually bring in,' Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) Director General Rajan S Mathews said.

Bharti group Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal has said that the auction will be over on the first day. The last auction held by government for 3G and Wireless Broadband spectrum jointly took around 50 days to end. Auction for another set of airwaves frequencies required for CDMA services has already failed after the two applicants, Tata Teleservices and Videocon withdrew from it.

The government priced CDMA spectrum 1.3 times higher than GSM spectrum. This auction could have fetched the government at least Rs 13,000 crore.

Citing recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to fix a minimum price for CDMA spectrum at double the price of GSM spectrum, Sibal said that the the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) realised that there would be no taker for these airwaves at Rs 28,000 crore and hence it lowered it to 1.3 times instead of double price. 'If we go below Rs 18000 crore, then what will you say? Then you will say that you have again undersold, there is yet another scam. The minister is favouring somebody,' Sibal pointed out.

SSTL, which run services under brand name of MTS, did not participate in the auction as it is waiting for the hearing of its curative petition before Supreme Court.

In the petition, the company sought reinstatement of licences as it has argued that it was allocated spectrum for which there was no demand. The company, which did not participate in the auction, maintains that it will continue its operations in India.

'Absolutely we will continue. We are putting all focus and hopes towards the legal route and we hope the Supreme Court will consider our curative petition,' SSTL President and CEO Vsevolod Rozanov said.

Mathews of COAI said the industry body had been saying that given the reserve price, the quantum of spectrum that is being put up and the overall structure, it is not going to be a very successful auction.
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