Officials aware of the details told ET that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has added global mobile personal communication by satellite services (GMPCS) in the schedule 1 of telecom bill, wherein spectrum may be administratively allocated for use of government functions or purposes of public interest.
But they said the additions have been done to make it an enabling provision for the government to take a decision around spectrum allocation. But, it does not mean auctions are ruled out.
“Government has to allocate spectrum for the needs of non-profit and other state functions. It must keep an option with it,” a government official told ET on the condition of anonymity. Another official said the government will work out the modalities around the best way to allocate satellite spectrum after meetings with stakeholders.
While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is set to give recommendations on satellite spectrum allocation, a decision around allocation has to be taken by the government.ET had earlier reported that Trai was analysing 3-4 auction models for satellite spectrum, including the ones proposed by Starlink and Reliance Jio. Sources said the analysis has been completed and the regulator would come out with recommendations in the coming weeks. The regulator had made clear that interests of the nascent satellite industry need to be protected while finalising the allocation mechanism. Even the government feels that as India aims to have a larger or leadership role in global satellite space, efforts would be to provide enabling policies. “Spectrum requirements of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and its allied services or partners will be given preference by the government,” said another official.While the satcom players including Oneweb and Starlink have been promoting the public interest use for pressing their demand for administrative allocation, rivals such as Reliance Jio have junked the narrative. The DoT also believes that the satcom players are commercial entities and can’t be compared with government entities undertaking state functions.
Sine there are a few big firms in the satcom market with billion-dollar valuations, the spectrum allocation rules may differ for different categories of service providers such as low and medium earth orbit (LEO/MEO) satellite players, VSAT players, startups and broadcasters.
Reliance Jio had submitted legal opinions from two former Supreme Court judges, KSP Radhakrishnan and L Nageswara Rao, to the authorities stating that auction should be the desired way to allocate satellite spectrum. Before that, satcom companies shared the view of former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, who said auction isn’t the most appropriate and efficient method of resource allocation.
Jio and Vodafone Idea have cited ‘same service, same rules’ principle in pitching for auction of satcom airwaves. They also pointed to a 2012 Supreme Court order on allocation of natural resources like spectrum to demand an auction.
The DoT had also written to Trai for auction of satellite spectrum as it feels administrative allocation may draw legal challenges in future in the wake of the 2012 Supreme Court order.