Vodafone Idea and Airtel Might Have to Pay More than Rs 90,000 Crore As SUC and License Fee Dues

The telecom operators in the Indian telecom space have a looming payment over their heads which is the latest burden on the already financially drained telecom companies. It is worth noting that the telecom industry which remains under a reeling debt of Rs 7 lakh crore has been slapped with another huge payment to be made which is to be made to the government on account of license fees and spectrum usage charges (SUC). This payment, combined for all the telecom companies, exceeds the Rs 1.3 lakh crore figure. However, as per an ET report on the matter, the dues might further snowball by 10% to increase the woes of the telecom companies. The possible rise in the estimated figure which is to be paid by the telecom operators might happen because of the recent changes in the definition of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) as stated in its new order by the Supreme Court.

Spectrum Auction Timeline to Be Further Pushed Back

If the dues rise for the telecom operators, then it might push the date of the 4G and 5G spectrum auction even further given the harsh financial situation of the telecom industry. If that happens, then the spectrum auctions in the industry might happen late next year. To recall, previously the talks were being held about holding the auction in late 2019 and early 2020. However, the telecom operators are not enthusiastic about participating in the upcoming auctions because of their drained balance sheets which make them not so fit for investing in the spectrum which remains of the most pricey entities being owned by the telecom operators. As per the people aware of the matter, this date remains in question might be adjusted seeing the situation of the industry and the keenness of the telecom operators to participate in the auctions.

DoT On the Task of Recalculating Dues

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is the one doing the recalculation for these dues which are to be paid by the telcos. The dues might have changed after the Supreme Court has passed a new verdict on the definition of AGR. To understand how the license fee and the SUC payment is made, it is crucial to note that the telecom operators have to pay a certain percentage of their AGR to the DoT as these fees. Now, the debate between the telecom operators and the government over the AGR issue was whether or not the AGR for these fees should include the revenue from none-core services of the telecom operators. The Supreme Court in its new decision had highlighted that the AGR would include the revenue from non-core services as well, thus inferring that the telcos will have to show increased AGR and hence pay more license fees and SUC to the DoT.

Dues for Telcos to Rise by 10%

For the Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea duo, these dues have been estimated to be about Rs 89,000 crore combined. As per the officials, these dues might further rise by 10%. The new telecom entrant, Reliance Jio, only has to pay Rs 41 crore. Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea both have asked for relief from the government in this matter saying that they would face a financial crisis if the dues are not lowered. To this, Reliance Jio has replied that relief is not necessary for the telecom companies as they have ample financial means to pay off these dues. As per the people aware of the matter, because of these dues the spectrum auction, which in itself is a very capital intensive exercise for the telcos is going to see reduced enthusiasm.

Arpit Sharma

Arpit spends his day closely following the telecom and tech industry. A music connoisseur and a night owl, he also takes a deep interest in the Indian technology start-up scene and spends rest of his time spilling poetry and stories on paper.

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Arpit Sharma