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UK operators could receive €250 million spectrum fee refund


UK mobile operators could claim back up to £220 million (€250 million) in spectrum licence fees, after Vodafone UK won a legal case against regulator Ofcom.

The High Court last week upheld Vodafone’s complaint that an increase in spectrum licence fees in 2015 did not follow due process, the Financial Times reports. Between summer 2015 and 2017, Ofcom trebled annual licence fees (ALFs), despite an outcry from operators.

Money for infrastructure

Following a challenge from EE in 2017, a court ruled that Ofcom should not have raised the charges without conducting an impact assessment. This ruling laid the foundations for Vodafone to lead other operators in a case to recover historical overpaid costs.

A Vodafone representative is quoted as saying: "We are delighted with the court's ruling. Ofcom has previously acknowledged that it failed to follow proper process in raising the licence fees and the court has now confirmed that the overpayments should be returned."

“The repayment of these fees will enable us to invest in the country’s digital infrastructure”.

Not so fast?

However, in the latest ruling, Ofcom was immediately given the right to appeal and is likely to do so.

An Ofcom representative said, “This case has been decided on what is a technical and important point of law, and the judge has recognised this by granting Ofcom permission to appeal further to the Court of Appeal.”

“The mobile operators did not challenge the amount they pay for this valuable spectrum, but the judgement means they get a windfall of more than £220 million.”