January 27, 2020 / 11:37 AM / 25 days ago

Czech telecoms watchdog chief quits in row over 5G auction

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The head of the Czech telecoms watchdog has resigned over government changes to a planned auction of frequencies for 5G telecoms networks, saying they risked slowing the rollout of the technology and were likely to result in court disputes.

The Czech Telecommunication Office (CTU) is planning an auction of frequencies in the 700 MHz and 3.5 GHz bands this year to boost competition in a market where high prices have long been a gripe of customers and politicians.

However, CTU chief Jaromir Novak said the government had made some last-minute changes to the conditions of the auction that he feared could put off bidders and delay 5G technology.

“I cannot sign under auction conditions that in my deep conviction will not improve the competitive environment in the Czech market, they will jeopardize the target of rapidly introducing 5G networks and they will likely lead to a number of court disputes,” Novak said in a resignation letter which he posted on his Twitter account.

In particular, Novak said the government had shifted to put too much emphasis on national roaming - which would allow customers to switch among operators as if they were traveling abroad - in the 3.5 GHz band, which he said could not be used across the whole country.

Novak also told Reuters in an emailed reply to questions that he had not been consulted properly about the changes.

Industry Minister Karel Havlicek said the adjustments were proposed due to low interest from bidders.

“The interest among foreign bidders is zero, among the Czech bidders it is quite minimal, based on that, we started to discuss new conditions today,” Havlicek said in a televised briefing after a government meeting.

He added the government had fired Novak and appointed CTU board member Hana Tovarkova to replace him. The CTU did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Czech telecoms market is currently dominated by three companies: O2 Czech Republic, T-Mobile and Vodafone.

The auction was planned to start this month but the government pushed the date back to later this year as the conditions were being finalised.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Mark Potter

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