The management of the radio spectrum is a statutory function of the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, under the Communications Regulation Act 2002, as amended. ComReg is independent in the exercise of this spectrum management function. In accordance with its statutory functions, ComReg has consulted extensively on its proposals for the release of spectrum rights of use in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequency bands and the auction has now commenced.
I am advised that ComReg received a considerable number of responses to this consultation process. These were considered prior to finalising the proposal for the award of a number of individual rights of use in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz and 1800 MHz radio spectrum bands. The documents are ComReg Document 12/25 and Decision 04/12 published on 16 March 2012. ComReg's information memorandum for this award process, which is now in the auction application phase, details the processes and procedures ComReg is employing to implement its substantive decisions.
The reasons, analysis and other material relied upon by ComReg in support of its decisions on the minimum coverage and roll-out requirements are set out in section 5.5 of Document 12/25. Among other things, ComReg considered that actual coverage levels are expected to exceed the 70% population obligation by a considerable margin given the competitive nature of the market and the limited risk of roll-back of coverage from the existing levels. It should be noted that the four existing mobile operators have achieved coverage levels exceeding those set out in their current respective licences. For example, for 3G services, Vodafone's coverage covers 90% of the population, 5% more than its obligation. Hutchison 3G, better known as 3, covers 96% of the population, 11% more than its obligation. O2 also covers 90.5% of the population, which is more than its obligation.
Additional Information not given on the floor of the House.
ComReg also notes that coverage continues to be an important competitive differentiator in the mobile telecommunications market. Any deterioration in coverage by any one network would undermine that network's attractiveness to its existing and potential customers. The importance of maintaining the existing levels of mobile telephony and mobile broadband coverage has been raised with ComReg by my officials. While the outcome of the forthcoming multi-band spectrum release process cannot be anticipated, I understand that ComReg is not expecting any reduction in coverage as a result of the process. In all of the circumstances, I do not believe that a policy direction concerning this matter would be appropriate at this time.