Operators slam BT's opposition to Digital Britain plans

Operators slam BT's opposition to Digital Britain plans

Operators refuted BT claims that Government plans to extend their 3G licences will amount to ‘a gift of several billion pounds from the UK taxpayer.’

BT is threatening legal action if the Government goes ahead with plans to extend operators’ 3G licences under its Spectrum Modernisation Programme – a key part of the Government’s Digital Britain programme.

BT argues that the move would be anti-competitive, would stifle innovation and prevent new entrants into the market.

Operators expressed their frustration this week at BT’s opposition, which has extended the programme’s consultation period by another month and could trigger major delays.

A 3 spokesman said: ‘Claims that mobile service providers are set to get a handout are wrong. A 3G licence extension is not a giveaway.  It is simply a move in 11 years’ time to the same annual fee structure levied on the vast majority of radio spectrum used by mobile operators today, including the spectrum currently used for 2G services.’

3 also hit back at BT’s claims that new entrants would be barred and competition quashed. The spokesman said: ‘The spectrum proposals do not disadvantage new entrants as the proposed caps limit the amount of spectrum that any of the four big operators can licence, giving smaller players and new entrants the opportunity to win spectrum at auction. Far from stifling competition these proposals have the potential to enable real choice for consumers in rural areas for the first time and they will do so without either government subsidy or requiring a tax on internet access.’

O2 said the deal would be an equitable exchange. A spokeswoman said: ‘Under European law, the UK Government has the discretion to allocate licences to certain users and classes of users.  We feel that the exchange of higher coverage commitments and payment of a proportionate fee from 2021 is a fair exchange for the certainty we need to continue investing in our 3G network in the run up to 2021.’

Vodafone joined the fray. David Rodman, head of regulation, commented: ‘The 3G licences expire in 2021 and we can't see how extending them beyond that date acts as a barrier to competition or innovation in today's mobile market.  The licences won't be free as the operators will be expected to extend their 3G coverage as well as pay an annual spectrum charge.’

BT’s opposition could seriously delay the Spectrum Modernisation Programme, pushing it back beyond the General Election, expected to be called in May, raising the possibility that a new Government could take it back to the drawing board.

Written by Mobile Today
Mobile Today


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