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Minister intervenes in Oz spectrum auction

‘Red undies day’ arrives

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Australia’s communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, who famously told Australian telcos they’d wear red undies on their heads if he told them to, has stepped into the auction process for new mobile spectrum.

His intervention comes amid speculation that the troubled state of Vodafone would leave Telstra and Optus as the only bidders – and thereby prevent the spectrum from being the river of gold the government hopes for.

Late yesterday, Senator Conroy issued this terse ministerial direction. It simply states that the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s normal power, under the spectrum allocation process, to set the reserve price is subject to the minister’s power.

As noted in industry newsletter Communications Day, the direction will delay the auction process, since the ACMA was due to issue information packs today (November 21).

The minister was the target of criticism after telling a conference in September that his ministerial powers mean he could direct carriers to wear “red undies” on their heads if he felt like it.

The auction process covers new spectrum in the 700 MHz and 2.5 GHz bands, including so-called “digital dividend” spectrum vacated by broadcasters in the move to digital TV in Australia. With the government implacably tied to a political commitment to deliver a budget surplus next year regardless of international economic conditions, anything less than the hoped-for billions would be a disaster. ®

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