Telstra effectively barred from 700 MHz spectrum auction to boost rivals

Comms Minister puts a price on your head: a lousy AU$1.25

Australia's communications minister Mitch Fifield has put a price on Australian Reg readers' heads: a lousy dollar and twenty five cents.

That's the price would-be-bidders will need as table stakes in the forthcoming auction for Australia's 700 MHz spectrum, which has set that sum as the per-MHz, per-head price for the slice of the skies suited to use by 4G networks.

The spectrum's gone on sale after Australia successfully introduced digital television. Analog broadcasts previously occupied the 700 MHz bands that will soon go on sale.

The auction will see 2x15 MHz lots of 700MHz spectrum go under the hammer and Australia has about 24 million residents. So the government will reap at least $900m from the sale.

But revenue-raising's not the only idea here: Fifield's followed advice (PDF) from Australia's competition regulator the ACCC to the effect that “no mobile network operator can own more than two 20 MHz blocks of spectrum in the 700 MHz band.” Doing so means Australia's dominant carrier, Telstra, is frozen out of the sale.

The ACCC advice says that if competitors Optus or Vodafone buy the 700MHz spectrum, it will strengthen their networks and that will be good for competition. It also suggests that if a new player bought a big slab of the 700MHz band, it would be in a good position to start a new mobile network.

So the aim here is to promote competition, not just line the government's pockets. And that's a laudable aim, as Australians will soon remember as they head to coastal towns for a little seasonal R&R. When they arrive they'll often discover that only Telstra has decent 4G coverage. Or indeed any coverage. More spectrum for more carriers should go some way to alleviating that situation, if those carriers can be bothered erecting more cell towers.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) gets the job of running the auction and is expected to call for applications in January 2017. ®

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