A cabal of UK telecoms underdogs have implored Ofcom to level the playing field by capping the amount of spectrum owned by any single company.
In an email to Ofcom boss Sharon White, the CEOs of Three, TalkTalk, CityFibre, the Federation of Communication Services and UK Broadband-owned Relish implored her to address what they said is the largest imbalance in spectrum distribution across mobile operators of any developed country. This in spite of the fact that only one of the gang is an MNO itself and it already moaned about this a month ago.
“This imbalance has developed as a consequence of Ofcom’s failure to put protections in place that ensure all networks have access to sufficient amounts of spectrum to deliver both a great mobile service and competitive prices,” they goaded, in a tone not exactly designed to elicit a sympathetic response from the besieged White.
They go on to make the usual pleas to think of the consumers and how badly served they are by this imbalance and conclude that the only decent thing to do is to intervene to ensure BT and Vodafone aren’t able to hoard all the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz spectrum set to be auctioned off next year.
“You can fix this,” nags the letter. “The next auction of spectrum could be your last opportunity to give UK mobile customers a highly competitive mobile market which gives them the speeds, coverage and performance they deserve and demand. We call on Ofcom to apply a cap of 30% on the total amount of mobile spectrum any one company can own following the auction.”
This would be a radical move as BT, following its Ofcom-endorsed acquisition of EE, already has in excess of 30% and Vodafone is close to that threshold. What they’re essentially saying is: don’t let BT or Vodafone participate in the upcoming auction and, for good measure, make BT hands over a chunk of what it already has too.
That outcome is unlikely but it’s not a bad initial negotiating position for the minnows. Even if Ofcom only makes a small concession, such as putting a low cap on the amount of new spectrum any one player can grab, that will make it an email well sent, especially if that also has the effect of keeping the price down.