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Bharti Airtel slapped Rs 350 crore fine by telecom department over 3G roaming


The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has slapped a penalty of Rs 350 crore on Bharti Airtel for not stopping third-generation (3G) mobile data services through roaming pacts outside its licensed zones in seven circles. It has also asked the telco to stop 3G roaming services outside its licensed zones immediately.

The DoT, in a notice, has also asked Bharti to file a compliance report within three days.

Last year, the DoT sent show-cause notices to Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular among others, asking them to stop providing 3G mobile data services through roaming pacts outside their licensed zones as it deemed the pacts "illegal".

The government sold 3G airwaves in an auction in 2010 that attracted much higher bids than expected, and no single company managed to get spectrum for all of the country's 22 zones.

The government passed an order, asking telecom companies to stop offering 3G services beyond their licensed circles or zones under mutual roaming agreements. Several telecom companies -- including Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, Aircel and Tata Teleservices -- had filed petitions in the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), challenging the December 23, 2011, directive of DoT to scrap their intra-circle roaming pacts within 24 hours.

The issue became more complicated after a two-member bench comprising TDSAT chairman Justice S.B. Sinha and member P K Rastogi differed in their findings.

While Justice Sinha allowed operators' plea against the government's directive to stop intra-circle 3G roaming, saying it was violating natural justice, Justice Rastogi dismissed the petition saying they cannot provide roaming services.

The chairman was of the view that DoT had not followed the procedure and operators were not given enough time to share their views, but Rastogi dismissed the appeal saying they can't provide 3G services by having mere 2G licences.

With inputs from agencies

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