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Mobile heavyweights mass to get Carter over 2Meg for all

Spectrum smackdown imminent

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Heads of three of the five UK network operators are meeting with Lord Carter, the communications minister, tomorrow morning, along with representatives of the other two, to talk about his demand for 2Mb/sec for all and how to achieve it.

Lord Carter's proposal sees mobile operators trading spectrum to increase coverage, and the good Lord's report states explicitly that if they don't come to a suitable agreement by April then the government will impose one. This is something no one in the industry wants to see.

So the FT reports that everyone who owns network infrastructure has been summoned to meet Kip Meek - the former Ofcom official trying to sort out the details - tomorrow morning.

Vodafone and O2 have already been threatened with removal of their 900MHz spectrum, and it's likely that any imposed solution would see some of that spectrum (which was awarded without charge) allocated elsewhere - probably offered to the competition at Administered Incentive Pricing* as there isn't time to organise an auction. But operators will be more interested in how the government intends to make them responsible for providing universal access.

Under Lord Carter's proposal every home in the UK is entitled to 2Mb/sec broadband, in the same way that every home is currently entitled to a fixed phone line (with a few exceptions, where the householder is permitted to contribute to the cost). But when only BT is responsible for providing universal access that's simple to implement. The shared responsibility envisioned by Lord Carter is much more complicated and will form a central part of the discussions taking place tomorrow.

Negotiations of this kind can take years, and three months is the kind of aggressive timetable that can only be attained by wielding a big stick. Putting senior officers of each network operator into a room together and threatening to strip them of their spectrum is a good first step, but getting them to agree may require something a bit tougher. ®

*AIP - a process by which Ofcom calculates what spectrum would raise at auction, and charges the user that amount.

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