Austria upholds 2013 auction, as France plans 700 MHz award in 2015

European spectrum auctions moved back into the spotlight this week after an Austrian court rejected attempts by T-Mobile Austria to nullify the 2013 auction that raised €2 billion ($2.5 billion) for state coffers, and France said it would allocate frequencies in the 700 MHz band to telecoms operators in 2015.

In Austria, the Verwaltungsgerichtshof--Austria's highest administrative court--ruled that the auction of 800 MHz, 900 MHz, and 1800 MHz frequencies in 2013 was an appropriate way of determining the value of the mobile frequencies even if mobile operators had paid higher fees than they had expected.

T-Mobile Austria CEO Andreas Bierwirth said he "regretted" the decision because of the "exorbitant licence fees" the auction had engendered. He noted that the fees set a new record in the European Union, and were more than five times those paid in Germany and four times those in Switzerland.

However, Bierwirth added that the ruling at least provided legal clarity on the rollout of LTE services in Austria.

After the auction in 2013, Telekom Austria, Three Austria, and T-Mobile Austria said they had paid among the highest prices for spectrum in Europe in a market that has among the lowest mobile tariffs in the region.

Three and T-Mobile subsequently appealed against the auction result. Three then dropped its appeal after the Austrian government said it would invest €1 billion of the auction proceeds in improving Austria's broadband infrastructure.

Telekom Austria has also since said it will invest up to an additional €400 million in its domestic broadband network if the government goes ahead with this public spending plan to support broadband coverage.

Meanwhile in France, the office of Prime Minister Manuel Valls confirmed that frequencies in the 700 MHz band that are currently used by broadcasters would be allocated to mobile broadband providers via an auction in December 2015. Reuters reported that the government is hoping to raise around €2 billion through this "second digital dividend".

Network operators Orange, Numericable-SFR, Bouygues Telecom, and Iliad are expected to take part in next year's auction. The four operators spent €936 million on 2.6 GHz licences for LTE services in 2011, while Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom spent a further €2.6 billion on 800 MHz licences in 2012.

For more:
- see this statement from the French government (in French)
- see this Reuters article
- see this second Reuters article
- see this T-Mobile Austria statement (in German)
- see this Austrian court ruling (in German)

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