BSNL: On Unlevel Playing Field

NEW DELHI: Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., which is already reeling under severe financial crisis, is being forced to pay hiked spectrum charges, while private mobile companies have been given temporary exemption.

BSNL, which is likely to report loss for the first time in its history for the last fiscal (2009-10), will have to bear financial implications worth over Rs.700-800 crore every year. All pleas by BSNL Chairman and Managing Director Kuldeep Goyal to Telecom Secretary P.J. Thomas, seeking exemption from paying hiked spectrum usage charges till the matter is finally settled has so far gone unheard.

In February, the Department of Telecom (DoT) decided to hike the spectrum usage charges for all mobile players (GSM and CDMA) as per the spectrum being held by them. The hike was in the range of 1-2 per cent and supposed to come into force from April 1.

However, private players immediately moved the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). It stayed the order and asked the DoT to continue taking the existing charges till the mater is resolved. All the companies that approached the TDSAT got the relief; but being a government-owned firm, BSNL did not approach the TDSAT. Since then, BSNL has been paying more spectrum usage charges.

Telecom operators are required to pay between 6 and 10 per cent of their annual revenues to the Government as licence fees. However, private operators pay the revenue share only on income earned from telecom services based on a judgment given by the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). But since BSNL was not part of the petition filed by the private players it is continuing to pay licence fee on the total revenue, including income from non-telecom activities.

In a letter to DoT, Mr Kuldeep Goyal, Chairman, BSNL, said, “It transpires that private operators are now paying the licence fee on the basis of the TDSAT judgment while BSNL has been instructed to pay licence fee without taking the benefit of the TDSAT judgment. I would request you that BSNL may be permitted to account for the payments of licence fee on the basis of TDSAT judgment.”

Is the aim to ruin BSNL? No points for guessing who will benefit the most from that: the private players.

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