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DoT mulling the process of administrative allocation of spectrum

Photo: Connect

The department of telecommunications (DoT) has initiated the process of examining whether the allocation of spectrum can be done through an administrative process in addition to the auction route.

Currently, the exercise is at a very early stage but the need has been felt because the number of players in the telecom sector has reduced and since there’s no shortage of spectrum.

As a result, the need for price discovery of spectrum through auctions is no longer there.

Further, auctions are proving to be cumbersome when it comes to allocating spectrum for backhaul purposes, satellite communication, and private networks.

Against this backdrop, it is being felt that multiple modes of spectrum allocation could be identified and laid down so that there’s a clear policy roadmap.

In 2012 when the Supreme Court had cancelled all 122 new licences granted by the then telecom minister A Raja, it had said that natural resources should be allocated through a process of auction only.

The court had added that there should be a transparent mechanism to allocate natural resources like spectrum, which provided room for the non-auction route but in public debates, it was largely seen that any deviation from auctions would be violative of the SC order.

The DoT may seek legal opinion on the matter,  adding that if need be the Telegraph Act may be amended to clearly spell out the modes of allocation of spectrum and for what purposes.

Prior to 2012, spectrum was allocated bundled with telecom licences and additional allocations were made based on subscriber additions.

However, there were auctions for granting licences, through which upfront payment of licence fees to the government was revised. However, this process was not followed by Raja in 2008.

If a mechanism to allocate spectrum other than the auction is finalised it would solve the issue of granting backhaul spectrum to the operators. The backhaul spectrum is used to connect different sites of the operators and is different from the access spectrum which is used for providing direct services to the consumers.

To address the issue of 5G, the DoT is exploring options of giving a certain amount of backhaul spectrum to operators based on the quantum of access spectrum bought by them in the auctions. For instance, if a telco buys 20 MHz of 5G access spectrum in the auction, a certain quantity of backhaul spectrum may be allocated to it.

Another issue that would get addressed if there’s a clarity that all spectrum need not be allocated only through auctions is satellite services.

Currently, the telecom industry is divided around the allocation of satellite spectrum with Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea batting for auction while Bharti wants the same to be allocated administratively.