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Campaign calls on Ofcom to impose mobile spectrum cap

Monday, November 28th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

A new campaign is calling for Ofcom to impose a limit on the amount of spectrum – the airwaves used to deliver mobile services – that can be bought by any one network.

Spectrum ownership in the UK is split between the country’s four mobile network operators – EE, O2, Vodafone and Three.

But campaigners say it isn’t split fairly, leaving consumers with less choice and higher prices.

At the moment, EE and its parent company BT hold 45% of immediately usable spectrum. Vodafone has 28%, O2 15% and Three 12%.

A new batch of 4G spectrum, in the 2.3 GHz band, will be auctioned off by Ofcom in the New Year and the communications watchdog has already proposed a new cap that would stop BT/EE from being able to bid.

But there is no such cap on spectrum in the 3.4 GHz band, which is likely to be used in the future rollout of 5G.

Now Three is leading a campaign to cap the percentage of the UK’s spectrum any one company can own at 30%.

MakeTheAirFair, which is also backed by TalkTalk, CityFibre, Gamma, Relish and the Federation of Communication Services, says spectrum has the biggest single impact on a network’s ability to offer a fast, reliable service at a decent price.

It is encouraging consumers to respond to Ofcom’s consultation ahead of the next spectrum auction and tell chief executive Sharon White they want a better mobile market.

'Everyone loses out'

Dave Dyson, CEO at Three UK, said: “The UK mobile market is broken at a critical time when it should be leading and not lagging almost all other developed countries.

“Ofcom must prove it is on the side of consumers and apply a 30% cap on total spectrum ownership following next year’s auction.

“Spectrum is a national asset that should benefit every citizen. If it’s all controlled by one or two massive businesses then you can’t have effective competition and everyone loses out.

“This is the moment for the British public to stand up and fight for real choice and better mobile services.”

Chris Pateman, CEO at the Federation of Communication Services, said: “In every other market, business people are used to having a choice of good services from a variety of suppliers.

“We owe it to government and business to deliver real choice and proper competition for the high quality voice and data connections upon which they rely to trade in the modern world.”

Mark Collins, director of strategy and public affairs at CityFibre, added: “We are at a critical point in determining the future of the UK mobile market.

“With growing investment in the next generation of mobile network infrastructure, the time is right to protect the viability of that competitive market.”

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