Telcos challenge Ofcom on UK spectrum cap

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

Three UK is spearheading the "MakeTheAirFair" campaign to lobby regulator

Three UK is spearheading a campaign challenging Ofcom to introduce a 30% spectrum cap aimed at curbing BT’s dominance of the mobile sector.

BT is currently the UK’s largest mobile operator following its £12.5 billion acquisition of EE earlier in the year, and owns around 42% of spectrum, according to the MakeTheAirFair campaign.

The campaign, launched by Hutchison-owned Three alongside TalkTalk, CityFibre, Gamma, Relish and the Federation of Communication Services, challenges Ofcom CEO Sharon White to make sure no operator can hold more than 30% of UK bandwidth.

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.”

Ofcom Sharon White toon

White recently introduced a cap as part of the upcoming £70 million spectrum auction for the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands. The cap will limit bidders from possessing more than 255MHz of any spectrum band, preventing BT from bidding on the 2.3GHz band.

The cap only applies to “immediately useable” spectrum, and the 3.4GHz band has been earmarked for 5G, meaning BT will be free to bid on it.

The MakeTheAirFair campaign claims 65% of UK consuers want a cap on how much one company can own of a publicly used resource, such as spectrum, based on a survey carried out by YouGov on behalf of Three.

To encourage consumers to get involved in the campaign, the telcos have created artwork “transforming” White into a superhero (see above). This artwork will be ran across several advertising channels, it said.

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. 

“As a challenger in our market, CityFibre is wholly aligned to the change this campaign seeks to achieve. The regulator must ensure that the upcoming auction is designed to improve services for all.”

Three attacked Ofcom when it joined the Fix Britain's Internet campaign, which is lobbying to split BT from infrastructure arm Openreach.

A spokesperson for the regulator 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.”