The stalemate between telcos and Department of Telecom (DoT) on the inter-operator 3G roaming issue just lost another chance of ending.

The matter was before The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which has given a split verdict, with one bench member ruling in favor and the other against it.

While both the sides can see it as half victory, it may also be termed as half loss. And therefore, no matter how either party views the verdict, the reality means that the issue remains as unresolved as before. This implies that business decision makers in the telecom companies can’t still take full-blown decisions on roaming agreements with fellow telcos.

It is significant that the verdict has come around a time when the industry is also implementing huge tariff cuts across 3G and other mobile data service segments. Whether such deep slashes would vastly accelerate the update of mobile data or not is a different matter, but the split verdict on 3G roaming pacts doesn’t really give a positive push to the industry’s 3G growth efforts.

DoT’s insistence that telcos can’t carry on with their 3G roaming agreements indeed defies “natural justice.” As the licensor, shouldn’t it have ensured an auction process such that 3G licenses were given on pan-India basis to the interested bidders?

Think of the issue from a consumer perspective: If you frequent from one telecom service area (circle) to another circle, where the 3G licensee is different, would you need to buy two subscriptions? Wouldn’t that be anti-consumer and unaffordable for many? Worse, it would be against the spirit of the telecom policies which say, “The focus of the Telecom Policy shall be telecommunication for all and telecommunication within the reach of all.”

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