Ofcom to press ahead with spectrum auction plans as legal challenge rumbles on

18 Jan 2018

British telecoms regulator Ofcom has issued an update on the timetable for its forthcoming auction of spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands, saying it believes it is ‘in the public interest for the auction to take place as soon as possible in light of the significant and strong demand for access to the spectrum’.

While Ofcom had intended to conduct the sale process in autumn 2017, legal challenges to its plans by local mobile network operators (MNOs) Three UK and EE necessitated a delay. As previously reported by CommsUpdate, last month the High Court ruled in the watchdog’s favour with regard to its auction plans, but while EE swiftly confirmed it would not appeal this decision, Three has opted to take the matter to the Court of Appeal. In its update Ofcom noted that it expects that case to be heard on 13-14 February 2018, but keen to move forward with the auction as quickly as its can once the Court’s judgement has been given, it has decided to proceed with publishing the auction regulations for the forthcoming sale process on 24 January.

Setting out the timetable beyond this, Ofcom has confirmed that it will release guidance for potential bidders on how to take part in the spectrum sale on 24 January, while the auction regulations will then come into force on 31 January. Once that happens, the regulator intends to confirm that date from which it will accept applications, while it has said it anticipates that the deadline for these will likely be around seven days after the regulations come into force. Further, Ofcom will start taking any necessary steps to decide whether to qualify applicants to participate in the auction immediately after application day, though it will stop short of formally qualifying bidders until after the Court of Appeal’s decision is announced, and all parties know whether its decision to impose an overall spectrum cap at 340MHz is upheld.

Claiming that the aforementioned steps are all ones that would need to be taken irrespective of whether the Court of Appeals upholds its decision, Ofcom has said that if it does need to amend its regulations in the light of the ruling, it will do so ‘with utmost expedition to minimise further delay’. Once the judgment of the Court is known, any company that has applied to take part will reportedly have a period to indicate whether they wish to withdraw from the award process and be refunded their initial deposit prior to the ‘last day for withdrawal’.

United Kingdom, BT Group (incl. Openreach), EE, Hutchison 3G UK (Three UK), Ofcom