COAI had been batting for reduction in these levies -- licence fee to 3 per cent from 8 per cent at present and SUC to a flat 1 per cent from average of about 5 per cent. At present, the licence fee of 8 per cent includes a USO Fund component of 5 per cent.
Industry experts had estimated that a 6 per cent reduction in licence fee or spectrum usage charges (SUC) could free up Rs 8,000 crore for the industry, which could be infused into network expansion and technological advancements.
"...it is disappointing that there were no announcements made regarding the rationalisation of levies and taxes currently imposed on the severely distressed telecom sector and telecom infrastructure is not taken into consideration that is going to build out the country," he said.
Mathews, however, noted that the Budget has laid major emphasis on boosting domestic manufacturing of network products, mobile phones, electronic equipment, semiconductors and healthcare products, and Rs 27,300 crore has been allocated for development of industry and commerce by 2021.
The Budget proposed that the New India will be driven by innovations, artificial intelligence and computing where data will be the new oil, and outlined other significant initiatives such as linking of 1 lakh gram panchayat to the BharatNet program by this year at an outlay of Rs 6,000 crore.
"A financially healthy and robust telecom sector is imperative to support all these future forward initiatives," Mathews said.
While relief measures continued to elude the industry, the government has more than doubled its revenue estimate from the debt-ridden telecom sector to Rs 1.33 trillion in fiscal year 2020-21, mainly on account of levies derived from AGR.
In the receipt budget, the government has pegged revenue collection at Rs 1,33,027.2 crore for financial year 2020-21 under communications head. Receipts under 'Other Communication Services' mainly relate to license fees from telecom operators and receipts on account of SUC, the budget document explained.
Mathews said increased receipt estimates appeared to factor in AGR payments, levies like licence fee and spectrum charges, and auction proceeds.
As it is, the troubled industry is buckling under Rs 1.47 lakh crore of statutory dues in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling on AGR. As things stand today, telecom companies owe the government Rs 92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee, and another Rs 55,054 crore in outstanding SUC dues.
Bharti Airtel's liabilities alone add up to nearly Rs 35,586 crore, of which Rs 21,682 crore is licence fee and another Rs 13,904.01 crore is SUC dues (excluding the dues of Telenor and Tata Teleservices).
For Vodafone Idea, this number stands at a cumulative Rs 53,038 crore, including Rs 24,729 crore of SUC dues and Rs 28,309 crore in licence fee.
The remaining liability is with state-owned BSNL/MTNL and some of the shut/bankrupt telecom companies.
The Supreme Court had allowed three months to the affected telecom operators to pay the amounts due to the government. While the deadline for that expired on January 23, the Telecom Department did not take any coercive action against defaulters given that their appeals seeking relaxation in payment timeline was pending before the apex court.
Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea Ltd, and Tata Teleservices have jointly filed a modification application in the Supreme Court seeking more time to pay statutory dues.
The fresh plea for relief on payment schedule came after Supreme Court, last month, dismissed the review petitions filed by telecom companies against the apex court's October 24, 2019 verdict on AGR.