The government has asked the Supreme Court for clarification on the possibility of allocating airwaves administratively, bypassing competitive auctions. As per a report by the Economic Times, this would be done in certain situations, such as addressing unexpected state priorities like national security, serving the broader public interest, or when specific technological and economic circumstances make spectrum auctioning impractical.
A Supreme Court judgment from 2012 and a Presidential reference recommend the use of competitive auctions for the allocation of natural resources owned by the public, such as spectrum.
In the Telecommunications Bill 2023 presented in Parliament on Monday, the government specified that the non-auctioned administrative allocation of spectrum might be considered for specific services like radio backhaul, in-flight and maritime connectivity, as well as satellite services, including licenses for global mobile personal communication by satellite services (GMPCS).
“We have brought it in the Bill but sought additional clarity from the Supreme Court to ensure all bases are covered,” as per sources cited by ET.
The government's appeal to the Supreme Court emphasized the need for allocating spectrum not just for commercial telecommunications but also for non-commercial purposes, serving sovereign and public-interest functions like security, safety, and disaster preparedness. It also highlighted the unique categories, such as commercial spectrum use, where technical and economic conditions may influence the feasibility of conducting airwave auctions.
Relying solely on auctions for the distribution of this vital infrastructural asset may pose challenges in allocating it for captive use, radio backhaul, and occasional or one-time use.