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India 3G auction setback as key meeting postponed

28 июля 2009

India's plans to auction 3G spectrum have once again suffered a setback after the first meeting of a government panel set up to finalise spectrum pricing was postponed.

The Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) was scheduled to convene on 31 July but the meeting has had to be delayed because one of its members – defence minister A K Antony – will not be able to attend, claimed sources close to the situation.

The EGoM is headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, and also includes communications minister Andimuthu Raja.

The EGoM formed on 13 July has been tasked with resolving a number of issues that have hampered the government's 3G plans, including how much spectrum to auction, the reserve price for 3G and WiMAX bandwidth, and annual spectrum charges.

The panel must also decide how many companies will be allowed to operate mobile services in each of India's 22 telecom circles, and it must rule on administrative and auctioneer fees.

All these issues need to be resolved before the government can set a new timetable for auctioning 3G spectrum.

India's 3G ambitions have now been hampered so many times that new setbacks to the proceedings do not come as any surprise.

After several earlier delays the original spectrum auction was scheduled to take place at the end of January this year.

However, a cabinet meeting at the end of that month failed to agree on a reserve price for spectrum, and the decision was taken to form a panel of ministers that would resolve any outstanding issues once and for all. In the meantime the spectrum auction has been delayed indefinitely.

Still, both of India's state-run mobile operators BSNL and MTNL have already launched commercial 3G services after rules set out in August 2008 guaranteed the two telcos would have access to spectrum.

In April reports claimed BSNL had signed up between 8,000 and 10,000 3G customers, while MTNL in June set its sights on adding between 200,000 and 300,000 subscribers during the first year of operations.

The two telcos will be required to match the winning bids made for bandwidth when the 3G auction finally takes place.

That could still be some way off.

The Indian government on Monday didn't provide any indication in the Economic Times report of when the EGoM's first meeting is likely to take place.

Furthermore, even after the panel has met and made its final recommendations they still need to be passed back India's cabinet for final approval.

The finance ministry in June recommended a base price for spectrum of 40.4 billion rupees ($834 million), so any major discrepancies the EGoM has with that figure could lead to further wrangling over the auction process and ultimately, more delays.

Источник: Total Telecom

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