Airtel can't add 3G customers in 7 circles, says SC

FP

The Supreme Court Thursday prohibited Bharti Airtel from adding new 3G customers in seven circles where it did not possess 3G licences.

But the interim restraint order by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir's bench did not bar the company from continuing 3G intra-circle roaming and other facilities to existing customers.

The court also asked the Department of Telecom to not take coercive steps against Airtel, which was asked to pay Rs 350 crore as penalty for breaching licence conditions by "illegally" providing 3G services in seven circles —Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh East, Kerala and Kolkata.

Airtel, Vodafone and Idea won 3G airwaves in 13, nine and 11 circles, respectively, in 2010. They entered into pacts and used airwaves of partners where they did not hold spectrum.

Their agreement also allowed them to offer high-speed data services beyond their licenced circles, which DoT says is illegal.

A Bharti statement reiterated that the DoT licence permitted 3G roaming and DoT had confirmed this before the 3G auction too. Operators had made huge investments based on this confirmation and DoT cannot be allowed to change its position later, it said.

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