Stuck in disputes, Portugal’s 5G auction goes on forever, Telecom News, ET Telecom

By Sergio Gonçalves

LISBON: Already at war with the three companies that dominate the Portuguese mobile phone market, the national regulator ANACOM is criticized by the government for a 5G auction that has dragged on for endless months.

Delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the auction of several batches of spectrum was finally launched by ANACOM in January, despite legal challenges from key players who say the rules unfairly favor new entrants.

The regulator has allowed operators to increase their bids by just 1% above competing bids, creating a protracted process of incremental increases.

Recognizing a “very slow evolution”, ANACOM amended the rule on September 27 to require a minimum increase of 3% to speed up the process.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa criticized ANACOM for causing a “huge delay” in 5G progress in Portugal.

“We all agree that the auction model invented by ANACOM is obviously the worst possible,” Costa told Parliament on Wednesday.

Anacom did not respond to an email request for comment on the Prime Minister’s comments.

A spokesperson for Portuguese telecommunications company NOS said in an email that the comments showed “the regulator’s profound incompetence” and called on its chairman to step down.

Altice Portugal, another local operator, said via email that it was time to make political decisions to foster economic development.

Portugal and Lithuania are the only two countries in the European Union that have yet to embark on the commercial deployment of 5G technology, which will allow everything from self-driving cars to remote surgery.

NOS, Vodafone and Altice – which together serve almost all of Portugal’s mobile customers – sued ANACOM in a Lisbon court for reserving part of the spectrum for new entrants.

They also complain of having to pool infrastructure and offer national roaming to customers of new entrants.

Joao Confraria, professor of regulation at the Catholic University of Lisbon and a former ANACOM board member, criticized the regulator’s decision to set the rules behind closed doors.

“I hope this auction ends quickly, but we can apply the Portuguese saying: ‘what is born crooked may never grow straight’.”

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