COAI rings alarm bells, asks govt. to ease terms for AGR dues’ payment

COAI also sought an immediate cut in licence fee levy to 3% from 8% and reduction in spectrum usage charges

The Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) has sent out a distress signal to the government seeking easier terms for payment of statutory dues by telcos, including extension of loans at lower rates to cover AGR liabilities, as also fast implementation of floor prices, to rescue the troubled sector.

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With the telecom industry plunging into a deep, unprecedented crisis, the association has raised an alarm over banks’ unwillingness to take any risk with regard to the sector, and asserted the “need to give a clear message to banks that government is there to support the sector”.

“Banks are currently unwilling to take any risk with respect to the telecom sector and are constantly asking telecom service providers to reduce their exposures by refusing to issue new bank guarantees or even to renew bank guarantees,” COAI Director General, Rajan Mathews said in a letter to Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash.

COAI has also said that the requirement of financial bank guarantees for securing licence fee payments should be done away with.

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In case Telecom Department is of the view that financial bank guarantees are needed, the same should be reduced to one quarter of licence fee, as per the industry body.

COAI also sought an immediate cut in licence fee levy to 3% from 8% and reduction in spectrum usage charges.

Citing India’s low average revenue per user compared to markets like China, Brazil and Russia, it further said data prices in India are a fraction of those in markets are U.S., China, Germany, France and others.

“Therefore, floor pricing is imperative to ensure the sector is sustainable and in a position to bear the deferred spectrum and adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues, while continuing to invest in world class networks,” COAI said.

COAI’s letter, dated February 26, came even as Vodafone Idea has reportedly made it clear to the government that it won’t be able to pay court mandated AGR dues in entirety, unless a bailout is extended immediately.

In all, 15 telecom entities owe the government ₹1.47 lakh crore in unpaid statutory dues — ₹92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee and another ₹55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges.

Of the estimated dues that include interest and penalty for late payments, Airtel and Vodafone Idea account for about 60%.

These dues arose after the Supreme Court, in October last year, upheld the government’s position on including revenue from non-core businesses in calculating the annual AGR of telecom companies, a share of which is paid as licence and spectrum fee to the exchequer.

The Supreme Court, earlier this month, rejected a plea by mobile carriers such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for extension in the payment schedule and asked companies to deposit their past dues for spectrum and licences.

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