Telecom operators finally get their say on liberalisation of the 2GHz band.  Any operators that did not respond to the Preliminary Consultation will get a second chance once the main consultation is issued. 

On 27 June 2014, ComReg published a Preliminary Consultation calling for views on the liberalisation of the existing rights of use in the paired 2GHz band.  The 2GHz band is currently restricted to 3G and GSM use.  A European Commission (“Commission”) Decision from November 2012 required this band to be made available on a technology neutral basis by 30 June 2014.  However, given that ComReg has just recently issued a Preliminary Consultation – with the main, more detailed Consultation still to come - it appears ComReg is somewhat behind on meeting the deadline.

In Ireland, each of the mobile network operators (“MNOs”) currently operating in the mobile market holds a 3G licence relating to spectrum in the paired 2GHz band.  This follows 3G licensing competitions in 2002 and 2007.  These licences were granted under the Wireless Telegraphy (Third Generation and GSM Mobile Telephony Licence)(Amendment) Regulations 2003, which restrict use of this spectrum to GSM and 3G mobile telephony services.  

The relevant Commission Decision 2012/688/EC requires Member States to make the 2GHz band available for the provision of electronic communications services subject to a number of conditions, one of which requires the band to be made available on a technology neutral basis.  Member States had until 30 June 2014 to comply with the requirements of the Decision. 

It seems that ComReg is not alone in its delay in dealing with this issue.  As ComReg points out in the Preliminary Consultation, while some Member States such as the UK and Sweden, have already taken measures to liberalise these rights of use, others such as Germany, have said they will make rights of use technology neutral on request, and others still have made no statement at all as to implementation of the Decision. 

ComReg is now seeking views on the potential impact of any such liberalisation in terms of benefits to consumers, and whether liberalisation would give rise to a material risk of distortion of competition, noting that the existing regulations and licences may need to be amended.  Given the MNOs’ plans to roll-out 4G / LTE services (and 5G services in the future) it seems that implementing liberalisation as soon as possible is a ‘no-brainer’ from an MNO’s perspective, and it is not clear why ComReg has further delayed the process by issuing a Preliminary Consultation before the main Consultation is published later this year.  It may be that ComReg felt it should at least address the issue prior to the 30 June 2014 by issuing the Preliminary Consultation.

The initial deadline for submissions to the Preliminary Consultation was 25 July 2014, but on 22 July, ComReg issued an information notice extending the deadline until 8 August.  ComReg will consider submissions and issue a further Consultation on its proposals for implementation of the Decision.