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BBC jumps gun on Ofcom rethink

Obliquely reports Australian 3G successes

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The battle for the digital dividend is far from over, with Viviane Reding firing another salvo in Dublin yesterday, but the BBC yesterday decided to unilaterally declare Ofcom is rethinking the auction in response to received comments.

In an un-bylined piece, originally titled "Ofcom rethinks airwaves sell-off", the BBC reports an Ofcom statement saying they are considering responses to their consultation on the digital dividend, but it also claims that: "Following criticism Ofcom said that it would rethink the sell-off".

This comes as something of a surprise to Ofcom, which has an obligation to consider responses but no intention of changing its plans at the current time.

The BBC piece goes on to parrot Ms Reding's line about Europe needing wireless broadband to connect rural areas, but fails to mention that Ofcom agrees with this position. Ofcom believes the highest bidder will make most efficient use of the spectrum, while EU Commissioner Viviane Reding believes the EU should mandate technology-specific spectrum, as she outlined in her speech at the Irish regulator's annual conference in Dublin:

"It is also clear that we also need to reserve a large share of the dividend for other public interest services and for stimulating economic growth ... I propose a 'fair play' 50:50 rule. That is half the dividend for the broadcasters and half the dividend for the new users."

But that debate is far too complicated for the BBC, which simply explains that the spectrum used for analogue TV transmissions would be great for broadband thanks to its long range and decent in-building penetration. It then goes off into a detailed examination of Telstra's operation in Australia, which has achieved 99 per cent penetration and is connecting some of the most rural communities to the internet.

This would be great if Telstra wasn't using 3G technology, on 2G frequencies, for its deployment - in just the way the European operators are prevented from doing thanks to the technology-specific licences they were originally awarded. But none of this has any bearing on the digital dividend.

The debate about what to do with the newly-available frequencies is complicated, with ideological differences and technical arguments on both sides. Naturally it requires informed opinion and comment, but that's a lot like hard work when you can just make stuff up and talk about how great broadband is for Australian school kids. ®

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