By Linus Garg
First publised on 2021-09-16 03:10:19
The Union cabinet provided huge relief to the telecom sector by approving several measures that bring in much needed reforms. It has provided a 4-year moratorium on payment of spectrum charges and AGR dues. It has also brought down certain charges and redefined AGR to exclude revenue from non-core business. The telcos were demanding these measures for long and in the wake of the Supreme Court judgment ordering telcos to pay the entire AGR dues in 10 yearly installments, Vodafone-Idea had indicated that it might fold up.
The government was concerned as Vodafone's exit would have left the field open for a duopoly of Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel (the government-owned BSNL is an insignificant player) in the vital sector. Since Vodafone has the infrastructure and the brand image to survive if could tide over its current difficulties, it was necessary to provide some relief to the sector and ensure that competition among the players would benefit the consumer and not allow just two strong companies to control and manipulate the business.
Further, with 5G on the anvil, if reforms were not introduced and if charges were high, companies would have hesitated in investing the enormous sums required for the transition. In any case, the definition of AGR needed rectification as the government cannot logically claim a share in the non-core business of companies that are licensed to operate telecom services. By now excluding non-telecom revenues from AGR, the government has acceded to the long-standing demand of the sector. If only this realization had dawned some years earlier, the long-drawn out litigation in the Supreme Court could have been avoided and things could have been settled amicably.
Among other measures, interest rates have been reduced and penalties for late payments have been waived. The government said that it would also consider converting the interest burden into equity if the need arises after the moratorium period. The licence period of spectrum has also been extended by ten years. Financial constraints in spectrum sharing, after a lock-in period, have also been removed. It also allowed 100% FDI in the sector through the automatic route, except from China and countries that share a land border.