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Ofcom wants to do 5G auction as soon as Three is done moaning

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UK telecoms regulator wants to get on with auctioning 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands and blames operator Three for holding things up.

Last December the high court ruled that all the objections brought by Three and EE/BT last year were rubbish and told everyone to get back in their box. EE took the defeat graciously but Three still had a face on it and vowed to fight to the death. By seeking permission to challenge the ruling in the appeal court.

Even the apparently ‘expedited’ legal environment in which all this is taking place offers glacial progress. So it took us a year or so just to get to this point and now we have to wait until the middle of February just to hear the appeal about the appeal. If that’s granted who knows how long the actual appeal will take to play out.

Ofcom’s PR strategy has always been to stigmatise Three for being selfish and holding things up for everyone else and that shows no sign of changing. Here’s what Ofcom has to say about its current strategy for the 5G auction.

The litigation by Three is continuing to delay access to the spectrum and the benefits to consumers and businesses that can flow from it. We are keen to ensure that we can move as quickly as possible to hold the auction once the judgment of the Court of Appeal has been given.

We have therefore decided to proceed to make the auction Regulations for this spectrum award process on Wednesday 24 January, and follow the timetable as set out below:

  • On 24 January we will publish the regulations, which will come into force on Wednesday 31 January.
  • On the same day we will also publish guidance for potential bidders on how to take part in the auction.
  • Once the regulations are in force, we will confirm the date for when we will be accepting applications.
  • We anticipate the day for receipt of applications will be around seven days after the regulations come into force.
  • We propose to commence the steps necessary to decide whether to qualify applicants to participate in the auction immediately after application day.
  • We will stop short of formally qualifying bidders until after the Court of Appeal’s decision is announced, and all parties know whether Ofcom’s decision to impose an overall spectrum cap at 340 MHz is upheld.

The steps described above are all steps that we would need to take whether or not the Court of Appeal upholds our decision, and the judgment of the High Court. If we have to change any of the Regulations in light of the Court of Appeal’s judgment we will do so with utmost expedition to minimise further delay.

Once the judgment of the Court is known, applicants will in accordance with the Regulations have a period to indicate to Ofcom whether they wish to withdraw from the award process and be refunded their initial deposit prior to the “last day for withdrawal”.

At this stage every neutral must be hoping the court of appeal will gently take Three aside and say “it’s over, son, time to let it go and move on.” This probably isn’t really about the auction itself anyway, which will only offer up a limited amount of semi-useful spectrum, but more about Three’s continuing quest for spectrum socialism.

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