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DoT proposes tax breaks
August, 26th 2009

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will ask the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) on 3G-spectrum auction, headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, to consider a proposal under which successful bidders of pan-India 3G spectrum can enjoy tax benefits applicable under section 80-1A of the Income Tax Act.

The DoTs rationale is that the 3G mobile broadband should be treated as a distinct infrastructure service and not continuity of telecom operations, especially in case of 2G service providers pitching for a pan-India 3G licence. The DoT will place the proposal during the second meeting of the EGoM scheduled for Thursday.

The proposal for tax benefits applicable under section 80-1A of the Income Tax Act is part of an internal note prepared by DoT that will be circulated to EGoM members, a senior DoT official told ET.

Currently, only telecom companies that kicked off operations between April 1, 1995 and March 31, 2000 enjoy income tax breaks under section 80-1A. If the EGoM were to accept the DoT proposal, it would imply that 3G operations of telecom companies will enjoy income tax breaks on 100% of their profits for initial five years. In the next five years, these telcos will enjoy a 30% tax break on their profits.

The DoT note to the EGoM also adds that Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is of the view that it cannot spare any further airwaves for WiMax services. As reported by ET earlier this month, ISRO chief G Madhavan Nair had said that the Department of Space (DoS) has already parted with 40 MHz of airwaves for WiMax services in the 2.5 GHz band.

He said any interference from the WiMax services offered in this band in the future could severely affect the very sensitive satellite services in the adjacent band. Mr Nair had also added the DoS is now left with only 150 MHz of airwaves in the 2.5 GHz band, the bare minimum requirement for satellite services.

The DoT note to the EGoM was prepared by its joint secretary (T) and consists of demands from the industry, especially those of CDMA-based operators, and includes the views of the DoS on WiMax spectrum.

The EGoM is slated to settle all outstanding issues associated with the auction of 3G airwaves, vital for high-end services such as high-speed internet and video conferencing on mobiles.

It will take a final call on the reserve price for 3G and WiMAX spectrums and decide on the number of players to be allowed to offer these high-end services in each circle.

It is also learnt that the EGoM may also debate whether the government at all has the right to urge successful bidders of 3G spectrum to shell out an extra Rs 1,600 crore-plus for a separate pan-India UAS licence, especially when DoT knows only too well that there is no extra 4.4 MHz 2G spectrum available to bundle with new licences.

At a time when the DoTs wireless planning cell is well aware that it wont be able to meet future 2G spectrum obligation for new UASL licencees, why should they be asked to shell out an extra Rs 1,600 crore plus full complement of the licence fees. While nothing has been finalised yet, a successful bidder of 3G spectrum, alternately, may also be asked to shell out a lower sum for a pure vanilla UASL without the bundled spectrum, said a government official familiar with the matter.

Indications are that a section of E-GoM members are loathe to the idea of fixing the number of slots for 3G services to a maximum five (including BSNL) per service area. Considering that, there are as many 11 to 9 slots available in some circles like Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, the E-GoM is likely to debate the rationale of uniformly restricting the number of slots (per circle) for delivery of 3G services. There is a feeling in the finance ministry that such restriction can tantamount to a loss of potential revenue for the government, said a DoT official close to the developments.

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