Legal battle over spectrum return drags on

6 Mar 2019

Chile’s Constitutional Court has summoned sector watchdog the Department of Telecommunications (Subsecretaria de Telecomunicaciones, Subtel) in relation to the legal battle over the return of spectrum stemming from the controversial 700MHz licence award. Diario Financiero writes that an appeal has questioned the clarity in Subtel’s instructions, limiting the cellco’s ability to comply with the order. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in June last year the Supreme Court found that Entel, Claro and Movistar had engaged in anti-competitive behaviour by ignoring spectrum limit rules in bidding for airwaves in the 700MHz band in 2014. The court ruled that the companies would be required to hand back an amount of spectrum equal to their award in that auction – i.e. 2×10MHz for Movistar and Claro, 2×15MHz for Entel – although the returned airwaves could be from any band, not necessarily the 700MHz range.

The trio have fought efforts to force their compliance with the order, however, arguing that the return of frequencies was not required because the regulator was working on new allowances that would permit them to keep the frequencies. The cellcos also claimed that they could not comply with the demand as there were no existing instructions or guidelines on such measures. The Constitutional Court awarded the companies a stay on the order in January 2019, giving the cellcos more time to argue their case.

In the most recent appeal, the cellcos challenged the lack of definitions in Subtel’s order for ‘adequate and timely compliance’ with the Supreme Court’s ruling. Further, the trio noted that the regulator had not provided guidance on how the conditions of how the ruling should be executed. The operators claimed that they were limited to enacting the measures in a way – and over a time period – that does not harm consumers, whereas a more immediate implementation would create ‘unnecessary, absurd and irreparable damage to the telecommunications system’ of Chile. Consequently, the court has summoned Subtel to provide further information on the case and to explain how the operators should enforce the decision.