A telecoms tribunal in India has struck down a decision by the Department of Telecom (DoT) calling for Sistema Shyam Teleservices Ltd (SSTL) to pay a spectrum levy of INR35 billion ($610 million), saying the same rules need to be applied to all operators, the Economic Times reported.
The Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal found the government had relaxed the differential pricing norm in Reliance Jio’s case and allowed it to convert its non-contiguous 800MHz spectrum into contiguous spectrum in some regions.
The tribunal added that Jio was allowed to reconfigure/rearrange its spectrum blocks with Reliance Communications’ non-liberalised spectrum, so there doesn’t appear to be any reason why SSTL should be treated differently, the Times reported.
The DoT can challenge the order in court, but department officials said they are still studying it and haven’t made a decision.
India’s fourth largest operator RCom announced in November it would acquire smaller rival SSTL through a stock swap, which would give it an additional nine million subscribers and extend its 800MHz spectrum to an additional eight service regions.
The latest decision would allow SSTL to finally convert its non-contiguous 800MHz spectrum into contiguous spectrum ahead of the close of the merger. SSTL fought the DoT last year when it ordered the operator to pay the additional INR35 billion levy to reconfigure the non-contiguous spectrum, citing a clause in the March 2015 auction rules.
When SSTL approached the tribunal last year, it noted that previous auctions had allowed reconfiguration of spectrum with other operators without an additional charge, the Times said.