ED Vaizey takes back seat on 4G auction delays

Communications minister Ed Vaizey declared in Parliament that he will take a back seat over the delay to the 4G auction process.

The Tory minister was questioned over what action he will take in the face of growing frustration about the spectrum allocation delay.

Fellow Conservative MP Andrew Percy asked the Department for Culture, Media and Sport head what involvement he has had in ensuring mobile operators agree on the 4G spectrum by mid-2012.

He also asked whether he has broached the subject of statutory powers to “direct Ofcom to proceed with an of the 800MHz and 2,600Mhz spectrum in the event of a legal challenge”.

Despite threats from O2 to take legal action to an EU court, the minister said that no fingers had been lifted to ensure that a 4G network rolls out in the face of legal action.

“I have had no discussions with Ofcom about a possible further direction in the event of a legal challenge to their proposals,” Vaizey said.  A rather relaxed attitude for a Minister who has continually put his weight behind the importance of mobile and internet technology in the past.  

Vaizey did say that he had been approached by operators and Ofcom, but had taken little action to actually push forward with the auction process.

“The operators have expressed their concerns with the Ofcom proposals to me and I have stressed to them the Government’s wish to see this auction take place as early as possible in 2012.”

Stern words, but little reassurance that the auction process won’t descend into a bloodbath, as expected, with all quarters trying to grab what they can.

As Tom Watson MP has pointed out, there isn’t much time to wait around. As well the cost potential cost to the Exchequer which Watson highlights, it means falling further behind countries such as Sweden and the US where 4G plans are already going ahead.  This has led to Watson himself demanding Vaizey use legislative powers to keep the 4G auction moving.

TechEye attempted to contact Watson for his views on Vaizey’s lack of action but have not received a reply.

As Vaizey points out, “Ofcom were directed to take a number of actions relating to spectrum in December 2010” by the government, so surely Vaizey has some stake in ensuring that  a 4G roll out does not move later into 2013. 

Unfortunately that is not the view of DCMS, despite its minister clearly expressing involvement in a written answer.

TechEye asked what action the government could take but were stonewalled by Paul Conroy at DCMS.  It appears as far as the government is concerned this is Ofcom’s mess and the public shouldn’t hold its breath for ministerial action.