Telcos go on the offensive, again, over BT’s 'dominance' of UK spectrum

News

The sniping over Britain's bandwidths has continued with a consortium of telcos launching a campaign aimed at curbing BT's "dominance" through a spectrum cap.

Three UK, TalkTalk, CityFibre, Federation of Communication Services, Gamma and Relish are demanding the UK regulator Ofcom ensures no single mobile network can own more than 30 percent of the available spectrum for the sector.

The Make the Air Fair campaign has BT and Vodafone in its sights, with the two operators owning almost 75 percent of the UK's mobile frequency between them. It said only Thailand and Malaysia have a larger imbalance.

The campaign claimed consumers face rising prices and patchy coverage as a result. Ironically, BT's mobile arm EE launched a campaign of its own last week arguing for greater clarity over coverage claims from operators.

[Read more: EE turns on 800MHz, calls out rivals for clarity over coverage]

The Make the Air Fair consortium argued the state of the British market is only set to get worse unless Ofcom corrects the market. The UK regulator is looking at next year's spectrum auction as a means of doing so.

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 percent 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.”

Dyson has been a staunch critic of regulation, especially after spectrum hungry Three's plans to buy O2 were knocked back by the European Commission last year.

In October, he joined a campaign led by Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone criticising BT OpenReach's dominance of the UK broadband market.

Operators in the campaign's firing line were privately sceptical about the latest round of attacks. One described as "post-truth" the claim that the UK was uncompetitive, noting the prices paid by consumers and the variety of MVNOs within the market.

Another raised the 2014 National Audit Office report into the previous year's 4G spectrum auction, which said Three's strategy was to make sure it did not pay beyond the reserve price for spectrum.

It said: "Three knew early on in the auction that it was the only bidder for the reserved spectrum. In our opinion it is very unlikely that the reserve price was equal to its true value to Three’s business."

In a statement, a Vodafone spokesman said: “These are some pretty surprising comments from an operator which has been in the UK market for more than 15 years and has had ample opportunity as well as the financial resources to bid for spectrum when it’s become available.”

An Ofcom 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.”

BT have yet to respond at time of publication.