Why we can’t let two players dominate the 700MHz spectrum auction

Thank you for the opportunity to submit on the rules regarding the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction.

TUANZ (the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand) is a strong advocate for increased competition, and as such has lobbied hard to improve the conditions for new entrants into the market, so as to increase customer choice.

The mobile market has, as you know, recently moved from a two-player duopoly to a truly competitive environment for the first time and TUANZ is determined to encourage the growth of competition in the years ahead.

The 700MHz auction gives us an opportunity to ensure that competition is continued in the newly emerging world of 4G or LTE networks.
Rather than restating our pro-competition position again, TUANZ would like to see the following issues addressed through the auction process.

1: Fair distribution of spectrum
TUANZ is concerned that any move to allow two players to buy up to 2x20MHz of spectrum will result in a duopoly in terms of 700MHz spectrum. Given that we’ve only just begun to see competition in the mobile space, this would be a catastrophe and TUANZ encourages MBIE to make sure that doesn’t happen. Allowing a maximum of three lots of 2x15MHz each would ensure that an even and fair apportionment takes place.

2: Price
The recent debacle of the Australian spectrum auction shows that too high a reserve price can mean limited competition for spectrum. TUANZ hopes New Zealand can learn from this example and set the reserve price at a level that encourages all three network operators to bid on spectrum.TUANZ suggests looking at recent European pricing as a guideline for reserve pricing.

Notwithstanding Treasury’s keenness to maximise its return through this auction, TUANZ would like to remind all participants that the real benefit of 700MHz spectrum comes through the deployment of networks, not through an initial cash grab. To that end, TUANZ would like to see the reserve price set at a low level so as to give the telcos the funding to deploy networks as quickly as possible.

3: Payment terms
TUANZ suggests two courses of action with regard to the payment terms for any winners. First, payments are suspended until network deployment takes place. Currently there are no devices that will use 700MHz and it will be at least a year post-auction before the telcos are in a position to offer service using 700MHz. It would seem prudent to base payments around this schedule. That supposes there is also a “use it or lose it” clause – something that TUANZ would support.

Second, payments should be spread over the life of the asset – that is, apportioned payments each year for the 18 years of the management rights period. This will help all three mobile network operators to free up cash to spend on the network deployment.

This is in line with the Minister’s comments regarding the true economic value of the spectrum being tied to its use, not to its sale.
TUANZ’s overriding concern in this process is for competition. We have seen what having a third entrant in the market can do in terms of products, service and pricing and we would not like to see the New Zealand market drop back to a two-player duopoly.

(This is TUANZ’s submission on the spectrum auction sale process)

Get secret pricing deals off the table – Consumer, InternetNZ, TUANZ

“Trying to do a deal on prices would undermine the important role an independent regulator has to play in setting them.”

“Customers are poorly served by the telecommunications industry working together in secret to fix the price of wholesale broadband.”
Media release – 13 July 2013

Consumer, InternetNZ and the Telecommunications Users Association responded today to a report in the Dominion Post that the telecommunications industry was seeking to negotiate a price for the wholesale copper broadband service known as UBA.
A Commerce Commission conference to help determine the regulated price of that service concludes in Wellington today, with the telco industry negotiations understood to seek to influence a forthcoming discussion paper on a regulatory review of the Telco Act announced by Communications Minister Amy Adams in February.

TUANZ CEO Paul Brislen says the best way to resolve the issue of pricing rules for a monopoly service like UBA is through open and transparent discussion. “If the report in today’s paper is accurate, it seems that some in the industry would prefer to see a deal done in private, and without the scrutiny of users,” he says.

InternetNZ Acting Chief Executive Jordan Carter says “Industry discussion and input on the policy framework and to help inform the regulatory review is a good thing, because government decisions should be well informed”.
Consumer CEO Sue Chetwin says “A line is crossed if specific prices are being discussed – that moves the matter from an intelligent debate about the best possible policy framework, to what looks like a stitch-up – or worse, a cartel”.
These kinds of back room deals are rarely good for consumers and it puts us in the awful position of the industry sitting down together to set pricing without reference to either customers or to the regulator, say the three Chief Executives.

None of our organisations are in the loop with these conversations, and none of us want to be. We won’t talk about prices, and neither should the industry: that’s a job for the Commerce Commission. We will make our points about the review in public. We urge the industry to take the same view.

“Setting the rules and setting the prices are two different jobs. The review is about reviewing the pricing rules. The regulator has the job of setting the prices. Trying to do a deal on prices would undermine the important role an independent regulator has to play in setting them. Without that protection, consumers are unlikely to get a fair deal,” the CEOs conclude.