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High Court to rule today on Three’s bid to halt spectrum auction

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Robert Finnegan is CEO of Three UK and Ireland

Robert Finnegan is CEO of Three UK and Ireland

Robert Finnegan is CEO of Three UK and Ireland

The High Court will give its decision today on an application by mobile phone company Three Ireland for a stay on the communications regulator’s move to go ahead later this month with a new auction system for awarding spectrum bands for mobile and wireless broadband services.

Three had sought a stay in circumstances where it awaits a judgment on its main challenge to Comreg’s December 2020 to hold a multi-brand spectrum award which will assign rights across four spectrum brands for the next 20 years.

The judge said any stay he grants is likely to be in place for just a few months until the judgment in the main appeal is delivered. Comreg will be entitled to apply to the court if it is considered there is any harm to the process of awarding the new spectrums, he said.

Among the reasons in favour of granting the stay, the judge said, was that Three would suffer serious and irreversible harm if it is successful in its main appeal and a stay had not been granted.

A 2020 Comreg decision provided for issuing new rights, in the 700 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands, by way of a “combinatorial clock auction” whereby participants bid on generic lots of spectrum rather than individual lots. The allocation of these blocks of the spectrum are critical to the economic development of the country in 4G and in the rollout of 5G, according to Comreg.

Comreg opposed Three’s stay application and said the award process should proceed to ensure the 5G roll out goes ahead and meets EU targets to make spectrum available throughout the State which will improve performance and coverage, particularly in rural areas.

Three Ireland (Hutchison) Ltd and Three Ireland Services (Hutchison) Ltd, part of the CK Hutchison Holdings, claimed this process would put it at a competitive disadvantage. Three sought an order that the court set aside certain parts of that decision on grounds that it has made significant error or errors of fact and/or law and/or assessment.

Comreg denied the claims and a judgment on the main appeal is awaited. It intends to hold the auction on July 25 with an October completion.

Three Ireland, which is headed by chief executive Robert Finnegan, argued if a stay was not granted it was possible that the judgment on the main appeal “could land” in the middle of the auction process which would create great uncertainty in the market. Vodafone and Eir, who were notice parties in the case, supported the stay application although they had opposed the main appeal.

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