EC competition authorities have opened a retroactive investigation into the Polish government’s award of 800MHz spectrum to fixed-wireless operator Sferia, which formed part of the Cyfrowy Polsat/Polkomtel group of companies. An EC statement says the probe is to assess whether the allocation of frequencies was in line with EU state aid rules.
The Commission says it received complaints from a number of rival telcos, alleging that in 2013 the Polish authorities allocated a 2×5MHz frequency block from the 800MHz digital dividend band to Sferia without a selection procedure, at no additional cost and without coverage obligations. Other operators – including Orange, T-Mobile and Play – had to wait until a 2015 auction to acquire spectrum in the same band to support their 4G LTE networks. They paid a total of PLN9.23 billion (equivalent to USD2.5 billion at that time) for 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequencies, including PLN8.61 billion just for the 800MHz spectrum alone, with their licences also subject to minimum coverage targets.
The EU regulatory framework for electronic communications requires that member states treat all operators equally. The EC statement reads: ‘At this stage and based on the information available, the Commission’s preliminary view is that Sferia may have been awarded by the Polish authorities 800MHz frequencies on more favourable terms than other operators and that, hence, the allocation may have amounted to state aid.’
Sferia was granted its 800MHz allocation prior to the full auction in return for handing back its existing licence in the same band which it had used for CDMA-based fixed-wireless services. The firm had previously taken legal action with the International Arbitration Court but agreed to drop the case and accept the new 800MHz concession. Sferia’s licence expired in 2018 when it refused to pay the PLN1.73 billion renewal fee and the firm stopped offering retail services at the end of that year.