“British FCC,” Ofcom, Braces for Spectrum Auction as Carriers Battle

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here was a time, long ago, in a United Kingdom far away where telcos, happy because they were free at last to compete, mostly did what they were told by their stern but fair government regulator, Ofcom, without rushing off to the local magistrate to quibble over any injustice they felt intruded on their happy state of affairs, according to TelecomTV.

Those days, alas, are apparently long gone. The regulator has become the referee and protector of the public interest, blowing a tinny-sounding whistle, only to be mobbed by screaming players, i.e., the carriers.

Two years ago, the CEO of British Telecom (BT) openly threatened Ofcom with ten years in court and a veiled infrastructure build strike when it felt it had been wronged. Now Ofcom faces another, and possibly bigger issue, but this time it’s about 5G spectrum and who can hold what percentage of it. The biggest spectrum holder is BT, and the smallest, Hutchison’s 3G ( “3” ), with O2 and Vodafone somewhere in between.

The current spat kicked off when “3” wrote to Ofcom, demanding that it impose a lower cap on the proportion of total spectrum any single mobile competitor could hold. The current ceiling is 37 percent;  “3”  wanted this lowered to 30 percent. The company has been feeling aggrieved for some time since it claims it’s being fatally constrained by a lack of spectrum and can’t serve its customers properly. At present, it has just 15 percent of the total and it claims this situation is anti-competitive, TelecomTV reported.

EE (formerly Everything Everywhere), on the other hand, wants more generous caps on spectrum ownership. It already owns 43 percent of available spectrum while Vodafone owns 30 percent.

The clock is ticking as the spectrum auction is supposed to get underway within the next two months; with two participants apparently ready to lodge injunctions at the last minute, it doesn’t bode well.

However, Ofcom seems resolute. It says it’s sticking to its original 37 percent cap decision, pointing out that  “3”  bolstered its spectrum holding this year by buying Relish, a fixed radio broadband operator, according to TelecomTV.  

August 23, 2017     

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