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Three, TalkTalk, CityFibre, Gamma and Relish have teamed up with the Federation of Communication Services to launch a consumer campaign against the mobile spectrum dominance of BT and EE, and is urging mobile users to tell regulator Ofcom to “Make the Air Fair”.
The campaigners want Ofcom to impose a cap of 30% on the amount of spectrum that any one mobile network operator (MNO) is allowed to own. They said the UK has the most unequal division of spectrum among the G20 group of countries.
Ofcom recently restarted the auction of spectrum for 4G and future 5G mobile networks, and proposed barring BT and EE from bidding for an immediately useable tranche of spectrum designed to boost capacity in the 2.3GHz band. The regulator took this decision because, collectively, BT and EE own well over 40% of in-use spectrum.
However, Three, which along with its closest rival O2 controls much less of the immediately useable spectrum in the UK, has said this proposal does not go far enough, and perceives the imbalanced spectrum holdings as a bar to its own ability to expand its network.
“The UK mobile market is broken at a critical time when it should be leading and not lagging behind almost all other developed countries,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson.
“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.”
FCS CEO Chris Pateman added: “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 on which they rely to trade in the modern world,” he said.
The group said spectrum had the biggest single impact on a network’s ability to offer a fast, reliable mobile service at an acceptable price to consumers.
It argued that a cap would mean all users – regardless of whether they were customers of Three, EE, O2 or Vodafone – would benefit from more choice, improved performance, faster speeds and lower prices.
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Speaking at a recent Westminster eForum summit on 5G and spectrum, telecoms lawyer and Osborne Clarke partner Jon Fell said Ofcom’s thinking on spectrum allowance and its effect on competition was disconnected.
“It is all very well to have four operators, but they have to be credible ones that can make a difference,” said Fell.
“Ofcom’s consensus says that to be credible you need to hold 10 to 15% of the available spectrum, and if you hold more than 40% you might be distorting the market. BT-EE is over that threshold, yet Ofcom still says the market is working.”
In reponse to the caompaign, an Ofscom spokesperson said: “The UK mobile market remains among the most competitive in Europe, and has been serving customers well. We’ve announced plans to meet the growing demand for mobile broadband, releasing more airwaves in a way that safeguards competition and encourages innovation. We welcome evidence from all parties before we finalise our decisions.”