High Court rules in favour of MNOs in annual spectrum fee case

20 May 2019

British mobile network operators (MNOs) have won a legal case against local telecoms watchdog Ofcom related to their annual spectrum licence fees. According to the Financial Times, as a result of the ruling the nation’s cellcos could stand to claim back more than GBP220 million (USD280 million) after the High Court ruling found in favour of key petitioner Vodafone UK.

The case in question related to charges that Ofcom levied on them between the summer of 2015 and November 2017. As noted in TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Ofcom hiked annual licence fees (ALFs) significantly during that period, prompting legal challenges by cellcos, and in November 2017 an appeal against the sharp increase in ALFs was upheld by the Court of Appeal (CA). This ruling allowed Vodafone UK to lead the case against Ofcom to recover the costs that the industry had overpaid during that period. However, it has been noted that as per the latest court ruling, the judge has granted Ofcom the right to appeal, though should it do so and fail, then it is understood the funds would be recovered from the Treasury and returned to MNOs.

Commenting on the matter, a spokesperson for Vodafone UK said: ‘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.’ For its part, Ofcom noted: ‘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.’