French telecom regulator Arcep has announced plans to auction the country's remaining available 3G frequencies in February.
On the auction block will be two sets of spectrum, with the minimum price per lot currently set at €120 million, a French government source told the Wall Street Journal.
Arcep has pledged to consider offers from all operators, and competition is expected to be intense. The most likely candidates to bid for the new frequencies are French mobile license holders France Telecom, Vivendi's SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Iliad.
Iliad received a third block of 3G spectrum in December, when it acquired France’s fourth mobile license.
Operators who win one of the final two blocks may be required to allow MVNOs to access their 3G infrastructure as a condition of acquiring the spectrum, the source added.
In a setback for the French government, the EC has meanwhile decided to sue the government over its introduction of a tax on revenue generated through telecom services.
The charge, which is used to fund public broadcasting programs, is an unauthorized administrative charge, the EC said.
“Not only does this new tax on operators seem incompatible with the European rules, it also concerns a sector that is now one of the major drivers of economic growth,” EC commissioner Viviane Reding said.
“Moreover, there is a serious risk that [the burden] will be passed on to customers.”
The EC has sent a letter of complaint to the French government, which has two months to reply. If the commission is not satisfied, it is entitled to file charges in the European Court of Justice.