New Delhi: The Supreme Court will on Thursday hear appeals filed by Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone in response to notices sent to them regarding discontinuation of their 3G services in unlicensed cities. On April 8, the Apex Court had directed the telecom department to not take any 'coercive action' against the country's largest mobile phone company Bharti Airtel till Thursday, April 11.
Last week, a panel of judges of the Delhi High Court quashed an earlier order of the court that had prevented the government from discontinuing Bharti Airtel's high-end services in seven regions Kolkata, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh and barred it from imposing a fee of Rs 350 crore. Bharti Airtel had appealed against the High Court's move.
The Delhi HC was acting on a plea by Reliance Communications, which said that Bharti's move to provide pan-India 3G data services was negatively impacting its mobility business. Department of Telecom (DoT) has extended the crack down on 3G services last week when it asked the Indian arm of Vodafone and Idea Cellular to stop offering 3G services outside their licensed zones within three days, and slapped fines of Rs 550 crore and Rs 300 crore, respectively, on these companies.
The breather for Bharti Airtel bore positive news for Vodafone and Idea Cellular as well as the companies were able to continue offering their services till Thursday. The duo has appealed against the notices alongside Bharti Airtel in the Supreme Court.
Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea won 3G airwaves in 13, 9 and 11 circles, respectively, in the 2010 auctions, and between them have a national footprint. They subsequently entered into intra-circle roaming pacts with each other and rode on the airwaves of their partners in circles where they did not hold spectrum themselves. This enabled them to offer high-speed data services on a pan-India basis.
Bharti had about 7 million 3G customers as of December 2012, Vodafone has 2.5 million customers that use 3G while Idea has 4.1 million subscribers.