Three formally launches its spectrum auction legal challenge

Having threatened it for ages, UK operator Three has finally filed its demand for a judicial review of Ofcom’s decision on UK spectrum caps in the coming 5G auctions.

Back in July Ofcom decided to cap the amount of usable mobile spectrum owned by any one operator at 37%. Three, which currently only owns 15%, wanted that cap to be 30% so it was pissed-off by the decision and hasn’t stopped moaning about since.

Meanwhile EE, which had initially indicated it was fine with the restrictions on its participation in the auctions necessitated by its current ownership of 42% of spectrum, recently decided to join the moaning party anyway, perhaps mainly to act as a legal counter-weight to Three.

The various arguments have already been in the public domain for some time. Three is sticking with its disingenuous claim that all it cares about is the poor old UK consumer and Ofcom is positioning Three as the selfish bastard, ruining the 5G experience for everyone else thanks to the delays caused by its legal challenge.

“We confirm that we have filed a judicial review before the UK courts in relation to the competition measures that will apply in the upcoming spectrum auction,” said a Three spokesperson. “We anticipate a short process and a court decision by early 2018. Ofcom does not expect commercial 5G services in the UK before 2020, so this short process will not impact the availability of 5G to UK consumers.

“It is absolutely vital that the regulator gets this auction right for the long-term benefit of all consumers. For a relatively short process, we feel it is a proportionate response to request an independent review of Ofcom’s proposal, which we feel unduly puts at risk its stated objective of a competitive four-player market and is to the detriment of UK consumers.”

“It is very regrettable that the auction will now be delayed by this litigation, which will harm consumers, businesses and ultimately the UK economy,” said an Ofcom spokesperson. “It is now crucial that companies don’t drag their feet, so the case can be heard as soon as possible.”

The one thing they both seem to agree on is that the review process should proceed as quickly as possible. There are not many precedents for arbitrarily capping this sort of thing so that looks unlikely. But the fact still remains that under the current proposals Three can significantly achieve its share of spectrum if it’s prepared to put its money where its mouth is and bid aggressively in the auctions.

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