The French Senate yesterday adopted an amendment to the national budget for 2008, allowing the government to alter the financial terms and conditions of the country’s unallocated fourth mobile 3G licence. According to Dow Jones Newswires, the change will pave the way for a new auction after the first attempt ended in failure last month, when Arcep rejected the sole bid for the licence from Iliad’s Free Mobile unit because it failed to meet the required financial conditions. The government is keen to introduce more competition to the local mobile market and following the collapse of the original award process, said it would keep its options open vis à vis amending the licence. A spokesperson for the Finance Ministry told Dow Jones Newswires that ‘approving the amendment was a way of keeping the options open on this licence. No decision has yet been taken on the substance of the matter, but it will be soon, probably at the end of 2007 or the beginning of 2008.’
Iliad, which fought for a phased payment plan of the EUR619 million (USD919 million) licence fee rather than a single upfront payment, says it is still interested in bidding for the fourth concession. It is believed the new process could also attract interest from the likes of alternative operator neuf Cegetel. However, the three incumbent 3G licence holders are thought to be less than happy with the turn of events. They have been petitioning for the permit to carry the same terms and conditions they were originally forced to accept for their licences. They may now attempt to block the government’s move in the courts, either in France or though the European Union.