Indian mobile giants Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India have all won a partial reprieve against a government order to stop offering 3G services in areas where they lack 3G licenses.
The Delhi High Court has ordered the telecom ministry not to take action to force Idea or Vodafone to shut down 3G services in areas where they are roaming - or to pay the large fines the ministry is seeking – while a court challenge is heard, Economic Times reported.
The order mirrors a similar decision by the Supreme Court ruling that Bharti Airtel should be allowed to continue operations while it appeals the telecom ministry order.
But all three operators have also been told not to sign up new 3G customers in the disputed regions while their respective appeals are heard.
The telecom ministry had in two separate directives ordered Bharti Airtel and then Idea and Vodafone to shut down services in regions where they do not directly hold spectrum.
The three operators formed a 3G roaming pact in 2011 to help make up for the fact that no operator was able to secure pan-India 3G spectrum in the 2010 auctions. The deal allowed the operators to roam on each others' 3G spectrum in areas they lack licenses.
The telecom ministry has long held that such deals are a violation of 3G license terms. In the court challenges, operators have insisted that they were given oral assurances prior to the auction that they would be able to enter 3G roaming pacts.
Besides the order to shut down services, the telecom ministry has attempted to slap penalties of 3.6 billion rupees ($66 million) on Bharti Airtel, 5.5 billion rupees on Vodafone India and 3.5 billion rupees on Idea.