India’s Bharti Airtel has been ordered by regulatory authorities to stop providing 3G services in seven regions where it does not have the requisite permits, according to the Economic Times newspaper.
Authorities have also imposed a fine of INR3.5 billion ($64.6 million) on the operator for abusing the terms of its licenses.
Bharti Airtel (New Delhi, India) won a number of 3G concessions during a spectrum auction in 2010, but has launched services in areas where it does not own licenses by establishing roaming agreements with Vodafone (Mumbai, India) and Idea Cellular (Mumbai, India).
The Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India says such deals are illegal and has been moving against operators involved in them.
According to the Economic Times, the regulatory body has said that Vodafone and Idea Cellular can also expect to be fined, without specifying the amount.
Regulators have also rubbished any suggestion that operators were told they could strike roaming agreements before they bid for 3G spectrum.
Bharti Airtel has responded to the latest regulatory move by filing a petition with the Delhi High Court, which has delayed the payment of the fine until after another hearing scheduled for 8 May.
The Delhi High Court has allowed Bharti Airtel to continue providing 3G services for the meantime, but it says revenue generated from these services must be kept in a separate bank account.
Although 3G services currently account for a tiny percentage of Bharti Airtel’s revenue, their discontinuation in certain regions would force a number of higher-value customers to find alternative service providers and hinder the company’s efforts to compensate for the slowdown in its traditional voice and messaging business.
The affected regions include Kolkata, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.
The dispute between operators and regulatory authorities over 3G roaming dates back to December 2011 and has seen the various parties pursuing action in a number of the country’s myriad legal institutions.