Ofcom contractor causes outrage

A company appointed by Ofcom to make way for 4G services in the 800MHz band are selling equipment into the spectrum, which taxpayers paid them to clear.

In 2009, it was announced by Ofcom that wireless microphone users would be removed from the 800MHz band in order to make way for new mobile broadband services. As the result of an industry campaign, Save Our Sound UK, which highlighted the damage being done to the British entertainment industry, the UK Government funded part of the clearance of the band. To achieve this, Channel 69 equipment had to be surrendered to qualify for taxpayer funding.

It has now been reported that Equiniti, the scheme’s administrator, has sold a substantial amount of equipment back into the band that taxpayers paid to remove it from, as well as preparing to release up to 80,000 channels for use in the UK spectrum. While the majority of the profit from these sales goes directly to Equiniti, the taxpayers who financed the scheme will receive only a fraction.

Ofcom has been warned by the British Entertainment Industry Radio Group (BEIRG) about the damage that resale of this equipment could cause to manufacturers, wireless microphone users, and taxpayers. The UK microphone sale and hire market could, therefore, be significantly distorted, with an influx of under-priced equipment, which will not be licensable in little over a year. Furthermore, this will go against the very purpose of the taxpayer funded scheme.

BEIRG is also concerned that Equiniti’s actions may affect the appeal of the 800MHz band to mobile broadband companies. The price they are willing to pay in next year’s 4G auctions could be considerably reduced.

Should this resale continue, UK taxpayers could end up paying for this scheme twice over; in the original funding scheme (including the fee paid by Ofcom to Equiniti), as well as in the reduced price mobile companies pay for 4G spectrum auction.

Following a meeting with Equiniti today (Wednesday 14th September) Ron Bonner, from PLASA and the BEIRG Steering Committee, stated: “Equiniti has been paid from our taxes, through Ofcom, to administer the PMSE funding scheme. Equiniti have not paid for the equipment themselves – the public paid for it. Equiniti now want to sell the equipment on for profit, whilst damaging microphone manufacturers’ and the taxpayers’ chance of getting the highest price for the 800MHz band when it is auctioned next year. Ofcom need to step in now to stop this sale, and ensure that the original purpose of the scheme is not undermined by the re-release of surrendered equipment into UK spectrum.”