The stand-off in India over 3G roaming has intensified, with the Department of Telecom ordering Vodafone and Idea Cellular to almost immediately stop offering 3G services in areas they lack spectrum.
The ministry has also slapped Vodafone and Idea with fines of 5.5 billion rupees ($100.4 million) and 3.5 billion rupees respectively, India's Economic Times reported.
The fines and shutdown orders come weeks after the department issued a directive instructing Bharti Airtel – the third player in the operators' 3G roaming pact – to stop offering 3G services through the agreement, and to pay a 3.6 billion fine.
Airtel had attempted to challenge the order in court and had managed to stall the shut-down, but the Delhi High Court last week sided with DoT. Airtel plans to appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court in a hearing starting today.
Airtel, Vodafone and Idea forged the 3G roaming pact to compensate for the fact that no operator was able to secure pan-India spectrum during the 2010 3G auction. The agreement allowed the operators to offer 3G services on each others' networks in regions where they do not hold their own licenses.
But the telecom ministry has long held that such agreements are a violation of license terms, and are robbing the government of valuable spectrum fees.