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AUSTRALIAN PCS AUCTION POSTPONED OVER UNRESOLVED POLICY ISSUES

The Australian Communications Authority has postponed its planned auction of spectrum for personal communications services until early 1998 to clear up key policy issues that may be ambiguous to potential market entrants.

The ACA was preparing to auction spectrum in 1.8 GHz and 800 MHz bands later this year, but the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, asked the ACA to delay the auction to clarify policy issues, said Ian Hayne, manager of spectrum marketing for the ACA.

“The auction will provide access to the Australian market for new mobile communications services carriers, and a delay in the auction process will allow the government to ensure that the regulatory environment encourages the entry of efficient new carriers,” announced Alston. “The [ACA] has advised the government that interest in the auction could be boosted by providing greater certainty regarding a number of policy parameters affecting the potential new mobile services.”

Key issues the ACA has identified include:

The retention of the regional Advanced Mobile Phone Service network after 2000, which may be used by new entrants to provide customers with a broader coverage area as they roll out their networks by virtue of intercarrier roaming rights established in a license condition. (The Australian government has mandated the phase out by 2000 of the country’s 10-year-old AMPS network);

Requests by potential new entrants to establish wider intercarrier roaming rights between digital network operators; and

The operation of access rights, established by Australia’s Telecommunications Act of 1997, to existing telecommunications towers and sites.

Alston said he has asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to consider whether it should establish access rights to enable intercarrier roaming between digital mobile phone services.

Australia’s telecom industry was opened to full competition July 1. The government tenders represent the first major step toward bringing full competition to Australia’s wireless telecommunications market. The ACA would not reveal the names of those interested in bidding for the licenses.

Australian cellular subscribers number about 4.6 million, with incumbent carriers Telstra Mobilenet, Optus and Vodafone achieving a 25 percent penetration rate.

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