AU calls for comments on unsold 700-MHz

25 Jun 2013

Australia's communications minister has launched a consultation on what to do with the remaining 700-MHz “digital dividend” spectrum left unsold during a recent auction.

Senator Stephen Conroy has released for public comment drafts of two directions it plans to provide to telecom regulator ACMA.

The draft orders stipulate a reserve price for the spectrum of $1.36 per MHz per head of population – the same price used for the auction which concluded in May.

Australian mobile operators had publicly complained that this price was too high, and Vodafone Australia even elected to sit out of the auction and rely on its 1,800-MHz spectrum for LTE. All told, 30-MHz of 700-MHz spectrum was left unsold during the auction.

If the spectrum wasn't shifted during the first round due to the high buy-in price, keeping the reserve the same appears counter-productive. But there has been a twist in the tale.

The Police Federation of Australia has recently started lobbying that 20-MHz of the 700-MHz spectrum should be allocated for public safety use. But industry group Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association opposes this, and favors using the spectrum for rural 4G services.

The communications ministry's decisions in the draft recommendation indicate that the government favors the mobile industry's stance – on the allocation but not on the reserve price.

“The ACMA has previously stated that it should not be assumed any unsold spectrum would be returned to market in the short term, or at a price that is lower than the reserve price set for this auction,” Conroy said in a statement. “These proposed Directions formalize that approach.”

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