The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) today released the guidelines for the surrender of the Access spectrum by access service providers. The Government has permitted the surrender of spectrum acquired by the TSPs after considering TRAI’s recommendations on ‘Auction of Spectrum in frequency bands identified for IMT/5G’ dated 11th April 2022.
The Government had last year conveyed a number of reforms in the telecom sector including the surrendering of access spectrum acquired by TSPs through future auctions. The telecom reforms were aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on TSPs and to further encouraging investment.
Spectrum surrendering eligibility period
The Government has allowed TSPs to surrender spectrum acquired through any auction conducted henceforth, after a minimum period of 10 years from the date of acquisition of such spectrum. The spectrum acquired through trading or any other permitted means of acquisition from one TSP to another will also be eligible for surrender after a minimum period of 10 years from the effective date of such acquisition.
The spectrum acquired prior to 15th June 2022 will not be eligible for surrender whether acquired through auction or any other permitted means of acquisition. The spectrum acquired through auctions conducted prior to 15th June 2022 but traded after 15th June 2022 will also not be eligible for surrender.
Spectrum surrendering process and terms and conditions
The TSP will be required to submit an online application at least 12 months prior to the proposed date of surrender of the spectrum containing details such as spectrum bands, LSA, frequency blocks, mode and date of acquisition of the spectrum being surrendered. The quantity of spectrum qualifying for surrender would be any multiple(s) of the block size specified in the relevant Notice Inviting Applications (NIA).
The Department will convey in-principal approval along with details of outstanding spectrum dues, if any, in case of the proposed quantity of spectrum to be surrendered within a period of sixty days from the date of application for surrender of the spectrum. The TSP has to clear the dues communicated within a period of three months from the date of demand raised by DoT.
The final approval to the surrender of the spectrum will be communicated by DoT within 15 days of clearance of dues. The TSP on the date of surrender of the spectrum has to submit a declaration that the surrendered spectrum has been vacated and is no longer in use. The surrendered spectrum will be put to auction at the first opportunity after the issue of final approval to surrender the spectrum.
The future instalments post surrender of the spectrum with respect to surrendered spectrum will not be required to be paid after the date of surrender. There will be no refund of any payment made, either as a partial or full upfront payment or instalments or pre-payments, towards the acquisition of such spectrum.
The surrender of the spectrum will mandate a nominal processing fee of Rs 1,000 per spectrum band per LSA from the TSPs. The surrender of the spectrum will be carried through an online process in a time-bound manner.
Provisions barring taking part in auction and lock-in period
TSPs indulging in surrendering partial or complete spectrum in a LSA-band combination will be barred from taking part in the auction of spectrum in that LSA-band combination for a period of 2 years from the date of surrender of the spectrum.
Further, TSPs acquiring some spectrum in a LSA-band combination will have a lock-in period of 2 years before surrendering the qualifying spectrum in that LSA-band combination acquired earlier.