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To auction or allocate satellite spectrum tussle continues

Elon Musk’s Starlink and Sunil Mittal promoted Bharti Airtel have argued against auctioning of spectrum for space-based communication on the grounds that administrative allocation is a globally adopted practice, in their comments to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on the mechanism for allocating the airwaves.

In sharp contrast, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea have backed spectrum auction claiming space-based services were effectively competing with terrestrial services, and that the government should keep regulatory parity on auctioning all kinds of airwaves.

“SpaceX cannot recommend strongly enough against enforcing an exclusionary auction design for assigning satellite spectrum,” Starlink said in its recommendations to TRAI, adding that auctions were not meant for satellite systems that are designed to share channels across a wide range of frequencies and provide service over wide geographic areas on a non-exclusive basis, which was different from airwaves for mobile services.

The satellite broadband services provider said it was unable to find any auction mechanism that did not have the critical flaw of artificially reducing competition by foreclosing access to shared spectrum.

Airtel said spectrum must be allocated based on an administrative approach, which would encourage participation from the private sector and start-ups to offer services at globally competitive prices.

TRAI should recommend suitable qualifying criterion to ensure the prompt and efficient usage of spectrum, and should at most levy a 1% of AGR as spectrum usage fee to recover cost of administrative allocation.

“Airtel is concerned that auctioning the satellite spectrum and creating an exclusiveness will create barriers for competition as competitors may block access to it by bidding and winning partial or full spectrum in spite of having no such global allocation, and make satellite systems redundant and severely hamper the emerging space ecosystem in the country,” it cautioned.

Bharti Global, the overseas arm of Bharti Enterprises which is the parent of Bharti Airtel, has the largest shareholding in satellite services provider OneWeb. OneWeb and France’s Eutelsat are undergoing merger to make a $3.4 billion entity.

Going by the information provided by communication services providers such as SpaceX’s Starlink project, OneWeb, Amazon’s Kuiper project, and Telesat, it can be clearly established that their intent is to create broadband communication services which would compete with terrestrial broadband services, Jio stated, hence arguing for auction-based allocation.

Reliance Jio Platforms has joint venture with Paris-based SES for geostationary (GEO) and medium earth orbit (MEO) satellite constellations. Jio Satellite Communications Ltd will provide global mobile personal communications by satellite services under a GMPCS licence issued by DoT. Livemint

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