Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Conference Analysis: Spectrum auctions pose danger

By Kate Bulkley

IBC2008 Daily

14 September 2008

Catherine Smadja:

Catherine Smadja: "Spectrum belongs to the public not the deepest pockets"

Catherine Smadja, head of special projects, policy and strategy at the BBC, warned other countries against following the UK plans to auction off spectrum freed up from analogue switchover to the highest bidder. "Service and technology neutral auctions as planned by Ofcom will not deliver an optimal outcome from a public efficiency point of view," Smadja told the audience at The Great Spectrum Landrush session that opened the conference yesterday. "I hope other countries will follow a different route."

Smadja said that Ofcom's auction plans have several potential pitfalls, including preventing smaller, less well-heeled operators from bidding. "This world is moving very quickly and this should lead us to some modesty. We should not be taking decisions that will lead to indefinite licenses in this changing environment." She argued that the final aim for the allocation of the "digital dividend" should be about delivering public value. "Spectrum belongs to the public. It is not only a question of money," she said.

Further, Smadja said that the way Ofcom was packaging the spectrum is "not neutral" and that there is a worry that operators with "the deepest pockets" could end up "hoarding spectrum." However, David Murray, senior advisor to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the US said that after raising $19.6 billion in March in its auction of the 7000MHz band, the US is very happy with the auction approach to spectrum allocation.

The BBC is planning to launch a DTT service in HD in November of 2009 and Smadja said that HD is part of a "natural migration not a luxury product." She added: "The public service broadcasters need DTT to deliver universal coverage and the HD is part of that." Changing Ofcom's mind is going to be an uphill battle for the broadcaster although Greg Bensberg, principal advisor on broadcasting at Ofcom, said that it is still in the consulting phase of its decision about how to allocate the digital dividend.

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