UK will hand out spectrum in return for bandwidth

In further leaks of Ofcom's forthcoming 'Digital Britain' report, The Sunday Times says the auction of further UHF spectrum freed by switchover could be ditched – instead companies will be given spectrum in return for commitments to invest in broadband access.

Dropping the long-planned auction might sacrifice £5bn (E6.3bn) of public income in favour of a plan backed by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. Under its "Spectrum for Speed" strategy, Jonathan Kestenbaum, Nesta's chief executive, argues that giving away licences with strings attached would accelerate the roll-out of broadband to remote and disadvantaged parts of Britain at speeds of up to 100 megabits a second.

"The case for this type of deal is compelling," Kestenbaum said. "In unprecedented economic times, we have to think imaginatively about how we can invest in big infrastructure projects while not cutting off large swathes of communities from economic and social development." Nesta said the plan could create 600,000 new jobs over the next five years.

Ofcom would impose a service obligation on broadband operators and mobile firms to provide basic broadband for all. Ofcom chief Lord Carter, has previously hinted the government would have to play a financial role in launching high-speed networks. By giving away spectrum the government would not reap any income, but nor would it have to contribute to broadband spending later on.

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