Stel to stop providing mobile services

The Department of Telecom (DoT) has
issued a terse communique to new telecom company S Tel, a joint venture between
Chennai-based Siva Group and Ba


hrain Telecom (Batelco), directing it to
immediately stop its mobile services in the circles of Himachal Pradesh, Bihar
and Orissa, citing national security concerns.

S Tel holds licences
for six circles, but so far has launched services only in these three circles
and has a little over 800,000 customers. Top executives with the mobile firm
expressed shock about the DoT directive and said that the telco launched
services only after getting all requisite permission from the government through
DoT letters dated 11 December, 2009 and 21 December 2009. “We have not
been given any reason or explanation and S Tel has followed all procedures and
got the necessary approvals. We have sent our reply to the DoT and asked them to
provide further details on the security issue,” P Swaminathan , director
of S Tel and president of Siva Group told ET.

Mr Swaminathan also
added that the telco was ready to work with the government to address security
concerns, if any. “This will impact over 8 lakh mobile users. The
government must provide us with details to sort it out as anything concerned
with national security is a major issue,” he said.This also marks the
first instance of the communication ministry asking a company to stop services
immediately . In the past, the government has issued notices stating that
companies may be asked to stop services if norms were not followed.

While DoT officials were not available for comment, industry
sources familiar with the matter said that this could be an arm twisting tactic
by the government, especially considering that the case filed by S Tel, which
accuses the communication ministry of bias while allotting of 2G licenses early
2008, is coming up for hearing in the Supreme Court. The Delhi High Court has
already ruled in S Tel’s favour following which the communications
ministry has now approached the Supreme Court for relief .

year, while hearing S Tel’s petition, the Delhi High Court quashed the
communications ministry’s notification announcing September 25, 2007 as
the cut-off date for granting telecom licences thus opening up a Pandora’s
box for the government. This means a total of 24 companies, which between them
had filed about 200 applications, were denied licences on the basis of this
cut-off date, would now have to be given 2G licences by the DoT.

Several of these companies have alleged DoT changed the cut-off date
to September 25 so that only a few select Indian companies such as Swan,
Unitech, Loop, Datacom and Shyam get licences. So far, DoT has provided no
explanation for changing the cut-off date.


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