Saturday, September 22, 2012

PTCL’s continued illegal use of frequency of costly 3G wireless spectrum

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PTCL’s continued illegal use of frequency of costly 3G wireless spectrum

KARACHI: The issue of illegal use of frequency by Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) has not been resolved even after more than two years.

This issue has been a bone of contention between PTCL, PTA and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). PTCL’s continued illegal use of frequency of costly 3G wireless spectrum is costing the government a loss of more than $300 million and destroying broadband competition thus paving the way for re-establishing a PTCL monopoly, said Wahaj-us-Siraj, spokesperson for the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK).

ISPAK claimed that since 2010 PTCL has been using costly 3G spectrum for its wireless broadband services advertised as EVO Nitro and has occupied approximately 40 percent extra 3.75 MHz of spectrum, not originally allocated to it by the PTA. ISPAK complained to the Frequency Allocation Board (FAB), the national body for enforcing use of wireless spectrum, and the PTA in December 2010.

FAB verified illegal use of spectrum by the PTCL and PTA after conducting a series of hearings and imposed a fine of Rs82 million on PTCL in September 2011. PTCL challenged this order in the Islamabad High Court and obtained a temporary stay order dated November 10, 2011 noting that “this order shall not inure unless specifically extended on the next date of hearing.”

ISPAK also alleged that the PTA did not pursue the case in Islamabad High Court nor did it file an appeal against this interim stay order which has led to continued illegal use of 3G spectrum by PTCL. PTA’s procrastination over this continued violation of law by PTCL has resulted in a discriminatory system for all other broadband operators who have paid millions of dollars of costly spectrum as legitimate fees whereas PTCL has been given a free hand to use extra spectrum without paying fees or following the process of competitive bidding.

This act on the part of PTCL is hurting all other broadband operators, particularly WiMax and future 3G operators, who are expected to pay a minimum of $300 million for spectrum.

On one hand, PTCL has successfully manipulated the government to delay the auction of 3G spectrum under the garb of a clandestine agreement between the government and Etisalat to enforce a moratorium on issuing new licenses for seven years at the time of PTCL’s privatisation. On the other hand, it is using a scarce and very costly 3G spectrum without paying any license fee and circumventing competitive bidding.

The injunction order of Islamabad High Court is against the PTA’s enforcement order dated September 16, 2011 and in no way allows PTCL to continue theft of spectrum. ISPAK demands immediate action by the PTA to stop the continued theft of national spectrum, recover the cost of spectrum and impose a penalty on PTCL for this blatant violation.

However, the PTCL spokes person has said that “PTA vide its order dated September16, 2011 imposed a fine on PTCL alleging use of extra bandwidth/radio frequency spectrum. PTCL disagreed with the monitoring survey conducted by the PTA and the methodology adopted and technical equipment used by the PTA for the purposes of the survey.”

The spokesperson said that “PTCL being aggrieved of the said arbitrary and unlawful order, challenged the same in appeal before the Islamabad High Court, Islamabad, and the court vide its order dated October 10, 2011 accepting PTCL submission, has suspended the impugned order of PTA and the matter is sub judice.”


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