Frequency allocation: chief regulator open to renewal instead of auction

In the ongoing dispute over the allocation of valuable mobile radio frequencies, there is apparently movement. The long-standing demand by network operators to extend expiring licenses for frequency use and not to auction them off, apparently falls on fertile ground in politics shortly before the upcoming change of government. The man in charge of the spectrum, chief regulator Jochen Homann, also considers an extension to be at least a temporary option.

He could “imagine extending the frequencies at short notice and conditionally and making them available at a later point in time in an award procedure with additional area frequencies,” Homann told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on Monday. The President of the Federal Network Agency, which decides on the award of frequencies, however, emphasized that nothing had yet been decided. “The question is currently open and not yet ready for a decision,” said Homann. “A large number of procedural questions still need to be clarified before a decision can be made.”

The Federal Network Agency’s political advisory board met on Monday to also discuss this issue. With the upcoming change of government, the question of frequency allocation seems to be discussed more openly again than in previous years, when auctioning was the rule. According to the FAZ, the North Rhine-Westphalian Minister of Economic Affairs, Andreas Pinkwart (FDP), wants to examine “whether a legally secure, limited-term extension might not be a better solution”. The NRW politician is not alone in this.

The main focus is on the broad spectrum in the 800 MHz band, which is therefore called “area frequencies”, for which some licenses will expire in 2025. The network operators are campaigning for an unbureaucratic extension. You like to refer to the high investments that are necessary for the expansion of cellular and fiber optic networks – and the role that spectrum plays, especially for expansion in rural regions.

“These frequencies are the backbone for fast mobile Internet in rural regions,” said Telefónica Germany boss Markus Haas. “That is why intentions must now turn into action – for further rapid digitization and digital participation of people away from the metropolitan areas. Politicians must now develop frequency planning that does not only consider the next two years.”

That goes to the address of the traffic light coalition, which had already agreed in their coalition agreement to align the frequency allocation “with specifications for area coverage” and also to consider alternatives in the allocation. Haas urges the coalition to think about “at least a decade or, better still, far beyond” when awarding frequencies.

However, the fourth stands in the way of the extension requests of the three network operators: The provider 1 & 1, which is preparing to set up its own network with a few frequencies acquired at auction in 2019 and a roaming contract from Telefónica behind it. 1 & 1 also has an eye on the area frequencies and will not leave them to the opponent without a fight. The chief regulator also sees the problem. “The question of equal access to frequencies for newcomers and the fourth network operator would need to be clarified,” Homann told the FAZ.

It will not be an easy decision for the Federal Network Agency – especially since the independence of the authority was recently questioned by the highest court: In October, the Federal Administrative Court saw evidence in a judgment that the Federal Government had “tried to a considerable extent” to “influence” the Federal Network Agency’s frequency decisions .


(vbr)

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