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4G Spectrum

Volume 534: debated on Thursday 3 November 2011

Ofcom is consulting on its plans for the auction of 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum by the end of 2012. The Government are also committed to releasing 500 MHz of spectrum, which is currently used by the public sector, over the next 10 years.

Will the Minister confirm that he will undertake that sale by the end of 2012 and that that will be a firm commitment to the House? May I also, in passing, urge him to examine very favourably the recommendations that have been issued today by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport about ensuring that private companies do not make windfall profits from what were once public assets?

The right hon. Gentleman makes very valid points. This is an independent process that is run by Ofcom, but he is right to indicate that if mobile phone companies decide to litigate this process, as they have in the past, that will seriously hold it up and be of great detriment to the consumer.

The Minister’s focus on delivering broadband through mobile technology and fibre is commendable and the investment is very welcome, but will he join me in calling on mobile operators and Ofcom to deliver the will of the House by delivering 98% broadband coverage through mobile technology in the 4G network?

I very much welcome the Select Committee report that was published this morning. The House will be aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced an additional £150 million to invest in mobile networks in order to cover many of these not spots. We certainly wish to get much greater mobile phone coverage, particularly because of its importance to broadband.

When the Labour Government left office, the sale of the 4G spectrum was scheduled for 2010, but it has been delayed twice since the general election, which has meant a loss of £300 million a year in fees and a delay of at least £2 billion in auction receipts. If Ministers had pressed Ofcom to do this to the original timetable, they would have needed no cuts in their departmental budget and they could have handed over a surplus to the Treasury. Why have they been so lackadaisical?

I welcomed the hon. Lady to her new position at two very lively Westminster Hall debates last week, but may I welcome her again, to the Dispatch Box? It is hard to know where to start in pointing out how wrong the points she makes are. First, any receipts would have gone to the Treasury; and secondly, the delay was caused by the previous Government, who could have done this five years ago. They left us an order on their last day in office at a time when Orange and T-Mobile were separate companies, but when those companies merged that had to change. We have got on with this whereas Labour delayed for five years.