This is your opportunity to call on your MP to make certain that Ofcom acts to Make the Air Fair. Let them know that as a UK consumer you want better service, lower prices and fair competition in the mobile market. Don’t let Ofcom make the wrong decision, help make the air fair by asking your MP what they are doing to support a 30% cap on mobile spectrum holdings.
Ofcom has not capped BT from increasing its spectrum holdings. Far from it – under its current proposals, BT would be able to bid on four fifths of the spectrum which is being auctioned this year. This allows BT to further increase its dominant position and prevent UK consumers from having access to a choice of mobile networks able to offer a fast, reliable service.
All wireless signals (like the ones from your phone) travel through the air via radio frequency.
We’ve been calling them airwaves so everyone understands, but actually the experts refer to them as the “spectrum”.
TV broadcasts, radio, GPS signals and every time you check Facebook or find Pikachu on Pokemon Go – all these are bits of data flying invisibly through the airwaves. The simplest way of explaining this is that it’s a bit like radio – tune your radio to one frequency and you get Kiss FM, tune to another and you magically get The Archers. This is because radio is sliced up into individual frequencies which are then given to each radio provider.
In a simplistic way, the mobile networks are similar. The likes of O2, BT/EE, Vodafone and Three all supply their service to you on certain fixed frequencies within the spectrum.
And the more slices of spectrum each one owns, the better, faster and more stable their service can be.
Here’s the rub. Some networks own or control more slices of the spectrum than others.
BT/EE own 42%, whereas Three owns 15%. Vodafone has 29%, while O2 sits on 14%.
These may seem just like numbers (and they are) but who owns the most and what they do with it has a huge impact on you, the consumer – how often you see that YouTube buffer sign, how many dropped calls you get in the Brecon Beacons and ultimately how much your monthly bill is.
Who owns the most airwaves has a direct effect on your pocket and the quality of service you receive.
In the upcoming auction for more spectrum, if left as unchecked as Ofcom are currently planning, BT/EE could end up with a massive share of the spectrum. That means the other networks getting crowded out of the market, which in turn means less choice for consumers, worse network coverage, more blackspots, more complaints and higher prices.
We just need to look at other sectors that BT has monopolised. Look at what has happened to the UK’s broadband service under the dominance of BT and their subsidiary Openreach.
We have been crippled and left in the digital dark ages through their shambolic underinvestment in the UK’s network infrastructure.
A recent Select Committee report found that BT’s approach leads to it underinvesting in its Openreach infrastructure by hundreds of millions of pounds every year. This is despite its likely having received some £1.5bn of public funds to expand its network*.
Ofcom has found that the UK compares poorly with the majority of peer countries in the availability of ultrafast broadband. Fibre To The Premises technology is currently available to just 2% of premises in the UK, compared to over 60% in world-leading countries.
*P16 and p58, House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Establishing worldclass connectivity throughout the UK, 2016
Fundamentally through a lack of competition, which allows one provider to deliver a poor service and charge high prices.
Organisations such as Ofcom are there to monitor and control such situations, but as we have seen with broadband, sometimes they are just not influential enough to keep things in check.
We can’t let the same thing happen to your mobile phone service.
Yes, they do say they are the fastest network, but the truth is they should be a lot faster than they are.
They currently own 42% of the spectrum which equates to 255MHz. That’s way more than any other network. In fact, it’s nearly three times the amount Three or O2 own.
Despite EE’s headline claims on speed, between themselves and BT they are actually sitting on around 75MHz of spectrum, a valuable national asset they’re not even using. That’s nearly as much as Three or O2 own in total, and they bought it just to ensure nobody else could. They certainly didn’t buy it to ensure a better service for consumers.
Ultimately, the other networks are using all the spectrum they own just to try and offer a decent service, whereas BT/EE are sat on a load of unused spectrum just to try and squeeze out the competition.
And we all know why competition is so important for you, the consumer.
Our campaign, maketheairfair.org, has one simple belief:
No single network should be allowed to own more than 30% of the overall spectrum, to ensure a future of fair prices and a better service for consumers.
We need your help to make the air fair, to ensure you get a great choice of networks providing eye-popping speeds, everywhere coverage and low prices in the future. We need people everywhere to sign up with us and stand up for fairness. So you get the product you deserve, so you keep all the networks on their toes, so you don’t have to shell out more for an inferior service.
Yes. Ofcom has run a consultation on its proposals and is considering the rules it will put in place for the next auction. Ofcom’s job is to protect consumers which means your voice really matters. The best way for you to support a 30% cap is to continue to make your views heard to Ofcom.