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Mint, New Delhi Shauvik Ghosh column
[February 15, 2013]

Mint, New Delhi Shauvik Ghosh column

NEW DELHI, Feb 15, 2013 (Mint - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that only those phone companies that successfully bid for spectrum in the November auction, from among those that had their licences cancelled last year, can continue to operate after paying market price for the frequencies that they are using.

"Operators that did not bid for spectrum or were unsuccessful will have to cease operations immediately," said a senior executive with one of the companies that lost its licences.

The court also directed the government to auction all the spectrum freed up after the cancellation of the licences, the executive said. The court was offering a clarification to its verdict last year scrapping the licences.

Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd (SSTL) is the worst hit of those that had their licences cancelled as it didn't participate in the November auction. The company has however filed a petition seeking more time as it plans to take part in auctions in March.

The Supreme Court had, on 2 February 2012, cancelled 122 telecom licences and spectrum allocated to nine companies in January 2008, saying that the process of allocation was flawed. The court further ordered that the spectrum be auctioned and gave the affected operators time till the conclusion of the auction to operate.

On Thursday, the apex court had dismissed a curative petition filed by Russian conglomerate Sistema's Indian unit challenging the February cancellation verdict. The court also rejected a similar petition by Videocon Telecommunications.

SSTL said the 2012 verdict had been unfair.

"The company believes that it has been unfairly penalized in the 2 February order by the honourable Supreme Court," it said in a release, reacting to the dismissal of the curative petition. "While SSTL remains committed to its operations, it will be up to the shareholders to decide the forward strategy of the sompany." The companies had filed separate curative petitions with the Supreme Court after their earlier appeals last year seeking a review of the licence cancellation order were rejected.

Sistema had filed a petition on Friday asking that it be allowed time until March to bid for the spectrum auction to be held at that time. The court has said it will respond separately to this petition.

The department of telecommunications has said that it will hold an auction for spectrum in the 900Mhz, 1800Mhz and 800Mhz bands in March.

The apex court, on Friday, however also said that the telcos can challenge the auction for spectrum in the 900Mhz band.

___ (c)2013 the Mint (New Delhi) Visit the Mint (New Delhi) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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