Finding no prima facie evidence of cartelisation between the private telecom operators, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has rejected state-owned telecom operator BSNL's allegations that Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular acted as a cartel during the 3G spectrum auction conducted on February 25, 2010, by the telecom department.
In its complaint, BSNL had alleged that these companies had bid selectively for the 3G spectrum in 2010 and "entered into illegal roaming arrangements among themselves to secure roaming rights over areas for which they had not bid".
In an order dated January 16 but made public on Monday, CCI said there did not exist a prima facie case for investigating the matter. CCI noted that Airtel, Vodafone and Idea got 3G spectrum in 13, 11 and nine service areas, respectively, out of total 22 circles. "Had the opposite parties -- Airtel, Idea, Vodafone -- formed a cartel, the total number of licences obtained would have been 22 and not 33," CCI said, adding that no other information has been furnished to show that the companies had formed a cartel.
According to CCI, it was "natural" that most operators had wanted to bid for the high-revenue circles like the metropolitan cities. "...an adverse inference cannot be drawn against bidder(s) for not bidding for all circles," it noted.
CCI said that agreements between the companies, relating to inter- and intra-circle arrangements, are to be considered in the light of terms and conditions of licence granted to them. "In case of a violation of terms and conditions of licence, the remedy lies elsewhere," CCI said.