The management of the radio spectrum is a statutory function of the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, under the Communications Regulation Act 2002. In accordance with this function and its obligations under EU law, ComReg designs and manages the spectrum assignment process. In so doing, it must bear in mind the objectives of ensuring the efficient and effective use of radio frequencies, promoting the harmonisation of use of frequencies across the European Union, and encouraging investment and promoting competition in the interests of consumers. ComReg is independent in the exercise of this spectrum management function.
The individual licensing of wireless communication equipment is also a function of ComReg under the Wireless Telegraphy Acts 1926 to 2009. Under the Acts, mobile telecommunications service providers and operators are required to obtain licences from ComReg. They are also required to comply with licence conditions set by it in accordance with regulations made by it under the Acts and in accordance with the EU regulatory framework.
I am advised that ComReg will not be granting 3G or 4G licences in the future. Instead, a multi-band award of spectrum in the 800MHz, 900MHz and 1,800MHz band, via auction, is proposed. In accordance with European directives, spectrum will be released on a service and technology neutral basis. I am advised that this means that the eventual licensees will be permitted to use their spectrum allocations to provide electronic communications services of their choosing, including mobile telephony and Internet access services, subject to certain technical specifications — for example, compatibility as set out in the directives.
I am further advised that the minimum population coverage requirements of the existing 3G licences were volunteered as part of competitive evaluation processes. Competition between current operators has delivered coverage levels that exceed, often significantly, the minimum coverage requirements set out in the licences. Coverage continues to be an important competitive differentiator in the market and operators continue to give it prominence in marketing and advertising campaigns.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
ComReg advises that a stipulation of 100% population coverage is not proposed, as it would require costly and duplicative infrastructure to be built. However, it expects that market competition will continue to deliver comprehensive coverage for voice services in a cost effective manner. ComReg is of the view that its current proposals will also ensure cherry-picking of high density urban areas does not occur.
ComReg has undertaken an extensive and comprehensive public consultation process on its proposals for the forthcoming spectrum auction. I expect that it has examined every aspect in great detail with a view to ensuring the maximum possible benefit for consumers, in accordance with its statutory obligations. Details of its proposals are available in its latest published document, ComReg 11/60, and associated documents.