MPs have slammed mobile operators for continuing to delay the spectrum auction that will allow 4G mobile services.
The Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee has urged mobile operators to stop delaying the process, criticising them for fighting over how to share out the airwaves that will deliver next-generation services.
The auctions, which Ofcom was due to conduct in early 2012 after a consultation, will now take place at the end of 2012.
Ofcom said the arguments in the responses to its consultation had persuaded it to delay the process.
In a report published today, John Whittingdale MP, chair of the committee said: ‘Ofcom has had a very difficult job adjudicating between competing and polarised interests, and we are concerned that constant disagreement and special pleading from the four mobile network operators appears to have further delayed the spectrum auction.’
‘We believe that the basic rules for the auction which Ofcom has laid down are sensible and fair, and that further delays will result in the UK falling further behind in this vital area. The auction needs to proceed as soon as possible.’
O2 and Vodafone have threatened to take legal action if the auction goes ahead in its current form.
Meanwhile, Three has said it could run out of capacity on its 3G network in some localised urban areas by the end of 2012 unless the auction happens quickly.
Everything Everywhere was, however, singled out for criticism by the Committee. It has been instructed by the EU to sell some of its spectrum, which it was originally allocated at no cost.
MPs condemned the prospect of a company making a profit from an asset given to it by taxpayers, and instructed Ofcom to examine how it might compel Everything Everywhere to use some of the proceeds to improve its network.
‘Where a mobile provider is set to gain a windfall from the sale of what was originally a public asset, Government and Ofcom should find a way to ensure that at least some of the proceeds are invested for public benefit,’ said Whittingdale.
An Everything Everywhere spokesperson said: 'We note the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s recommendations and will await the Government’s response to the report. We fully support industry collaboration to ensure that the forthcoming spectrum auctions are held as soon as possible so the benefits of faster data speeds reach consumers quickly, but understand that the complexity of the issues involved has meant that further consultation about the auction rules by Ofcom has been necessary.
'As part of the merger of Orange and T-Mobile to create Everything Everywhere, we are required to sell some 1800MHz spectrum, for which we pay £33 million in license fees to government each year. It is our intention that all proceeds from the sale of this spectrum will be invested into our UK network to benefit our customers across the country.'
The UK is behind the the United States, which is already rolling out 4G networks, and some European countries, which have already conducted their 4G auctions, including Sweden, Germany and Italy. France is half way through the process.
The Committee said that Ofcom should go further to hasten the rollout of broadband and set its coverage at 98% of the population and argued that the regulator should consider applying this obligation to more than one licence.
Alastair Davidson, MD, Government, mobile & enterprise at Arqiva, said: ‘Arqiva welcomes the strong support by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee for the major contribution which 4G should be making towards bringing broadband to rural consumers, most of whom are currently underserved.
‘We agree with the Committee that imposing a 98% coverage obligation should encourage more infrastructure sharing and collaboration; allowing the provision of multiple mobile operator services in the most cost efficient manner and minimising disruption and the environmental impact for consumers.’
Ofcom is holding a second consultation, due to end in December, to finalise how the auction should work. During the course of this month all four mobile operators will meet with the regulator and government to find the best solution to the issue.
The committee report can be found here: