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Opinion
Andy Mukherjee

A $21 Billion Telco War Comes Down to $2

India’s service providers were already at loggerheads with the state. Now, consumers are jumping into the fray.

Decisions, decisions.

Decisions, decisions.

Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg

India’s great telecom melee was bad enough as a brawl between service providers and the state, with operators complaining about the government’s outlandish claims on their past revenue. Now, consumers have jumped into the fray. A confusing three-cornered fight could lead to ugly outcomes: The country’s broken financial system would take a fresh hit; new 5G networks could be delayed; and the government’s annual revenue from the sector might get squeezed.

This week, New Delhi wants nearly 1.5 trillion rupees ($21 billion) in back license fees and spectrum usage charges, including penalties, interest and interest on unpaid interest. Before they lost the case in India’s Supreme Court, the telcos maintained the government’s interpretation of what it was owed under the 1999 revenue-sharing agreement to be too broad and unfair because it included even their non-telecom revenue, such as interest and dividend income.