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Orange and 3 talk back to Carter

Vodafone and O2 saying nowt

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The first responses to Lord Carter's report on enabling Digital Britain are in, and Orange has offered to connect up the UK if Ofcom agrees to hand over a decent slice of 900Mhz.

The responses so far made public include both Orange and 3, allowing them to explain why they need more 900MHz spectrum while everyone else complains about digital rights management, and Vodafone and O2 stay strangely quiet about the whole thing.

Orange has offered to provide Carter's proposed minimum of 2Mb/sec to 98.5 per cent of the UK population at its own expense, as long as it gets "allocated" 2 5MHz-wide slots of 900MHz. The key word here is "allocated", and Orange goes on to say that the offer is conditional on the annual fee for the spectrum remaining unchanged.

Ofcom's proposal is to snatch 10MHz of spectrum off Vodafone and O2, then offer it up for auction to the highest bidder, as well as introducing AIP* on the 29.8MHz of spectrum that the incumbents would (each) be left with. If the operators can't come to an amicable agreement, then Ofcom's proposal might end up being forced on them.

3 has made it clear that they'll see Ofcom in court should that happen, and also made a grab for more 900MHz spectrum in its response to Carter; but 3 wants a minimum of 15MHz of paired spectrum to be available one way or another. Both Orange and 3 want to redress the unfair advantage bestowed on Vodafone and O2 through their 900MHz allocation - 3 is maintaining that both operators should be locked out of the upcoming 800MHz auction, while Orange wants to prevent either company deploying 3G at 900MHz until everyone else has had a chance to play in that space.

On the subject of spaces: Orange has started calling places with no coverage "white zones", which is a fair description considering the operators' own coverage maps work that way - but care should be taken to avoid confusion with "white spaces" or "white lines (don't do it)".

Vodafone and O2 don't have responses published as yet, which makes sense as those companies have most to gain if no agreement is reached by the end of April, and Ofcom's proposal gets enforced. Not to mention they are probably busy integrating their air-conditioning systems.

But the rest of the responses make interesting reading: demands for greater access to BT's network infrastructure, and vitriol against making access suppliers responsible for content and copyright, along with a response from Microsoft pleading the case for more licence-free spectrum.

More responses should be published soon, each one providing another stone on the rocky road to a digital Britain. ®

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

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