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Vodafone may shun Portugal 5G auction unless 'illegal' rules are changed

LISBON, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Vodafone may shun Portugal’s planned auction of 5G frequency licences unless the regulator changes its proposed rules, which Vodafone Cluster Europe CEO labelled on Thursday as illegal and discriminatory against established players.

The regulator ANACOM, which hopes to relaunch the auction this month after delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, has reserved a preferential spectrum in the 900 MHz and 1,800 Mhz bands for new entrants, with a 25% discount on the final auction price.

Serpil Timuray told Reuters that Vodafone, which invested 1.6 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in Portugal in the last six years, would also have to reconsider plans to establish a pan-European research and development centre in Portugal if the regulator followed through with the auction rules.

“We believe this proposal spectrum design is illegal on both Portuguese and EU law,” Timuray said.

She said the new entrants would have no obligations to invest in the infrastructure nationwide and this burden would be supported by the existing players.

In addition, long-time market players such as Altice , Vodafone and NOS would have to share their infrastructure and offer national roaming to the new entrants’ customers, which Timuray said was “completely unacceptable.”

She said Vodafone had already asked the European Commission to investigate this illegal state aid.

“There is significant and unjustified discrimination against long-standing operators and we are obliged to reconsider all of our options in Portugal, including bidding for less spectrum or not bidding, if the auction is so flawed,” Timuray said.

In a written statement, ANACOM rejected any discrimination and said that the planned measures “aim to generate a positive impact on competition and end users, creating conditions so that new and diversified operations can appear in the market.”

The regulator said it was still analysing feedback received during the public consultation phase and there was still no final decision on the regulation.

ANACOM aims to allocate the licences by January or February. Several spectrum lots will be auctioned in 700 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.6 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands and the government expects to raise at least 238 million euros.

Timuray also said that reserving lots for new entrants would increase the cost of the rollout and reduce the appetite to invest, which would go against the government’s objectives. ($1 = 0.8543 euros) (By Sergio Goncalves, editing by Andrei Khalip and Jane Merriman)

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