Russian court ruling could impact mobile operators

MOSCOW, March 1 Fri Mar 1, 2013 1:10pm EST

MOSCOW, March 1 (Reuters) - A Russian appeals court has backed a regional TV company's claim to have been wrongly stripped of broadcasting rights, in a ruling that could impact a number of mobile phone operators the frequencies involved were handed to.

The Ninth Arbitration Appeals Court in Moscow ordered the cancellation of a 2011 decision to allow an operator called Scartel to use frequencies which had been previously used by TV operators including EROS, the complainant in the action.

The decision, which Scartel confirmed following a report in newspaper Vedomosti, could affect Russia's No.2 cellphone company MegaFon, which has been using Scartel's network to gain an early entree into fourth-generation services.

But it could also affect rivals MTS and Rostelecom , which had also been handed the right by Russia's telecoms regulator to use the spectrum previously used by TV operators, though also have other frequencies they can use to offer 4G services.

MTS and state-controlled Rostelecom, as well as rivals Vimpelcom and MegaFon, were last summer awarded 4G licences using frequencies mainly in a different range from the ex-TV frequencies affected by the court ruling.

"We received the frequencies in an absolutely legal and transparent way at a tender, so this (decision) does not concern us," said Rostelecom spokeswoman Kira Kiryukhina.

No-one at MTS could immediately be reached for comment. The company had declined comment, according to Vedomosti.

MegaFon declined comment.

Scartel gave no reason for the court's decision and no-one at the court could be reached for comment outside regular Moscow business hours.

Scartel played down the significance of the decision, saying similar claims filed by other TV operators in the past had all been dismissed by Russian courts. "We disagree with the decision and will file an appeal," said Polina Stepanova, a spokeswoman for Scartel.

Scartel is owned by a company called Garsdale, which is 82 percent owned by Russia's richest man Alisher Usmanov and which holds 50 percent of the shares in MegaFon.

In contrast with others in the sector, Scartel is an established 4G player, and MegaFon's partnership with the operator has been considered a competitive advantage over rivals in the mobile internet segment.

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