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NTA to Manage Operation of Smart Cell, Direction for Property Handover

NTA has now undertaken a fresh initiative to start managing the operation of Smart Cell operation. The authority has also asked the private telco to hand over the details of its property. Releasing a notice, the regulator said that after 15 days of the telco’s license revocation, it will now start property takeover and its management for the moment.

“After Smart Telcom failed to pay off its chargers and didn’t submit an application, the telco’s license is automatically revoked as per the law,” the notice read.

Santosh Paudel, Director and Spokesperson of NTA, informed that the authority will take over the management of Smart Telecom and provide services. Also, a management group will continue the services that do not have a license the Rule 37 of the act states.

The authority has formed a management group under the coordination of board member Gokarn Sitaula. He will take over the management of Smart Cell from May 03, 2023.

Patan High Court upheld Smart Cell take over the decision

Earlier, the Patan High Court upheld the decision of the Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA) which revoked the operating license of Smart Cell. In its latest hearing, the court ruled that there is no need to issue an interim order to prevent the implementation of the decision of the NTA’s board. That means, Smart’s desperate attempt has received a major blow and the regulator can proceed with the asset management of the telco. Find more details on this breaking news below.

On April 21, the joint bench of Judge Dhruvwachandra Nanda and Dipendra Bahadur Bam ruled in favor of the authority which now means that the operator’s license will remain invalid and will be subject to takeover by the regulator.

Earlier, the court had directed NTA to rescind its decision of revoking Smart Cell’s license with a show-cause notice. But with the latest decision, the fate seems all but sealed for the financially-stagnant telco. The private operator was given a deadline till Baisakh 03 to pay its renewal charges of Rs 20 billion and Rs 3 billion in fines to NTA. But the company failed to comply. In response, the telco went to court but its hopes have been dashed.

The Telecommunication Act, 2053 holds that if a company fails to pay its renewal charges, its operating license expires automatically. The company was required to pay its dues by Magh 02 and was on a deadline by Baisakh 03.

Smart Cell received its license on Baisakh 02, 2070.

The persistent financial woes

Smart’s financial woes have lingered for years which gradually obstructed its telecom services. The company failed to perform its infrastructure maintenance leading to service disruption in many parts of the country. Due to this, Smart’s customers complained that its service has been out for months with no response from the telco. It seems the company was aware of and acknowledged its fate. But with its operating license out of permit, what will be of its network?

NTA chairman Purushottam Khanal says that it has earlier said that the telco’s service will have no immediate impact. He informed that the authority had directed Smart to continue its services in its existing sites.

“Until now, the license of the company has been automatically canceled as per the existing law after the company couldn’t submit its renewal payment,” he added.

Smart Cell License revoked

After the fresh court decision, NTA will resume its procedure for the “Property Management Regulations of Telecommunication Service Providers Without a License 2079 bylaw“. It will start with evaluating the company’s assets and property and gradually complete its takeover.

The authority will have a committee responsible to carry out the telco’s asset management study. Smart has a liability of a total of Rs 30 billion to pay to NTA in license renewal, frequency charges, royalties, fines, etc.

Patan High Court upholds Smart Cell license revocation

NTA revoked the license of Smart Telecom on Basiah 04. Before that, Smart Telecom had already filed a petition in the Patan High Court with the demand that it should not have to pay tax in installments like other telecoms. It also demanded the termination of the license cancellation process immediately.

The first writ didn’t produce an interim order. The court called both parties to discuss the interim order. But after the authority decided to revoke the license of Smart Telecom, a writ was registered again on behalf of Smart Cell demanding that the decision not be implemented.

On the hearing of the second writ, the bench of Judge Narishwar Bhandari issued an order not to implement the authority’s decision on May 4th before the hearing of the old writ. But on the latest hearing, it was decided that NTA’s license revocation of Smart prevail.

All doors closed!

Smart made multiple attempts to keep its license even though it stopped service at various sites already. From the Council of Ministers to the High Court but failed to curry favor. Next, the telco might knock on the Supreme Court in its last bid to retain its license and the chance still remains slim. Before that, it was no more an officially operating operator.  

Also read: NTA calls internet cable cutting a human rights violation

Search for the third operator wide open!

With the country’s third largest telco’s operating license repealed, Nepal now officially has two operators -Nepal Telecom (NTA) and Ncell. That also means the quest for the third competitive operator might start now in earnest. The airwaves of Smart could go to the new entry into the telecom market in Nepal. But the subsequent developments will be interesting to see.

Binod Chaudhary-led Chaudhary Group has been open on its telecom ambition so all eyes will be on how the business conglomerate proceeds in the coming months and years. For now, it’s certain that Smart was never the answer to the duopoly of the two leading operators. Don’t miss: Is CG Telecom Getting Smart Cell’s Frequencies?

Smart provides 4G and 2G services for broadband and voice. As per the latest NTA data, the company has over 24 lakh GSM telephony subscribers. Likewise, over 1.07 lakh users remain on its fledgling 4G network.

The saga of Smart Cell’s telecom service license has come to an end. Now, do you want a third and proper telecom operator to serve Nepal’s growing smartphone users? Or are you content and satisfied with the services of the existing companies? Do share in the comments below.

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