Three Ireland wants pause on telecoms spectrum auction

Mobile network operator Three Ireland is asking the High Court to stay the communications regulator’s attempt to introduce a new frequency band auction system for mobile and wireless broadband services later this month.

hree is seeking the residency in circumstances where it awaits a verdict on its main challenge to Comreg’s December 2020 to award a multi-brand spectrum award which will grant rights to four spectrum brands for the next 20 years.

Comreg rejects the suspension and says the award process should continue to ensure 5G rollout goes ahead and meets EU targets of making spectrum available across the state.

Comreg’s 2020 decision provides for the issuance of new rights in the 700 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands via a “combinatorial clock auction” in which participants can bid on generic Bid on spectrum lots instead of on individual lots.

Three Ireland (Hutchison) Ltd and Three Ireland Services (Hutchison) Ltd, part of multinational conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings, claim this would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Three sought an order that the court set aside certain parts of this decision because it made material errors or errors of fact and/or law and/or judgment.

Comreg denied the claims and a verdict on the appeal is awaited.

Meanwhile, Comreg said it intends to hold the auction next July 25 with a completion date of October 2022.

Yesterday Three asked Mr Justice Denis McDonald to stay Comreg at the start of the main phase of the auction process pending the outcome of the main appeal to the High Court. Vodafone and Eir are Disclosure Parties.

Brian Kennelly SC, on behalf of Three, said in filings that it is possible that the main appeal verdict could “land” in the middle of the auction process if a stay is not granted, causing great uncertainty in the market. Vodafone and Eir are rather unusual supporters of the residency application, although they are main competitors, he said.

If the auction goes ahead, it is highly likely that there will be strategic bidding, which would significantly affect Three’s ability to compete in the market and also harm consumers, he said. A compensation scheme for losses Three suffers, like that developed by Comreg, “isn’t going to fix that,” he said.

If the pending judgment results in the auction process having to be repeated, it will create further uncertainty, he said.

Margaret Gray SC, for Comreg, her client believes the status quo should apply and the auction should continue, not least to ensure 5G rollout.

Comreg believes the question of whereabouts falls or rises when looking at whether Three has been seriously and irreparably harmed. Three failed the test, the attorney said.

Any damage there would be would be financial and that can be repaired, she said. The public interest required the proceeds of the auction, and that far outweighed the damage claimed by Three, she said. Three Ireland wants pause on telecoms spectrum auction

Fry Electronics Team

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