New Delhi: The Department of Telecom has asked Bharti Airtel to stop offering third generation (3G) services in seven circles where the company does not hold spectrum. "Airtel has been asked to stop 3G services and file a compliance report by 3pm on March 18, 2013," sources said.
The DoT has also asked Airtel to pay a penalty of Rs 350 crore for offering 3G services beyond permitted zones. The company sources said Airtel has already approached the Delhi High Court against the order. Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal had approved the recommendation of a DoT committee to impose Rs 50 crore penalty each on seven licenses of Bharti Airtel that entered into 3G roaming agreements with other operators to offer services beyond permitted zones.
Airtel won 3G spectrum in 13 out of 22 telecom circles in 2010 through auction and entered into a quid pro quo agreement with other players who won the spectrum in other service area where it did not have spectrum to offer 3G services. DoT has held that it is illegal to offer 3G data services beyond a company's licensed zone or circle. On December 23, 2011, the DoT had issued a letter instructing various telecom service providers including the Bharti Airtel to immediately stop providing the intra circle roaming service in all service area.
The operators, however, had moved the tribunal (TDSAT) challenging the DoT order, saying it would harm customers and investment in the sector. In July 2012, 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.