France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat (State Council), has rejected an appeal filed by Orange against the Autorite de Regulation des Communications Electroniques et des Postes’ (Arcep’s) decision of 4 April 2013, which authorised Bouygues Telecom to refarm the 1800MHz band for Long Term Evolution (LTE) use from 1 October 2013, provided the company relinquish some of its spectrum according to a specific timetable. The Conseil d’Etat found that ‘Arcep took the appropriate measures to ensure equality between operators and that the conditions for effective competition were met, as required by the regulatory framework for introducing technological neutrality into the terms of frequency licences.’ Arcep has welcomed the Conseil d’Etat decision.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, the four mobile operators – Orange France (then FT-Orange), SFR, Free and Bouygues Telecom – paid a total of EUR3.57 billion (USD4.71 billion) for the allocation of 800MHz /2600MHz spectrums for 4G LTE services at end-2011. While rival operators SFR and Orange France opposed Bouygues’s request to use the 1800MHz spectrum for LTE, it was tentatively approved by Arcep in March 2013, with the regulator stating: ‘We weren’t convinced the impact would be negative. It will incite all operators to accelerate the rollout of 4G services.’ Bouygues was allowed to start offering 1800MHz LTE from 1 October, with initial coverage of some 40 million people, or 63% of the country’s population. Subsequently, Orange denounced the 2011 4G tender for a lack of transparency, as the operators were not informed at the time that the watchdog was also planning to authorise the 1800MHz frequency band for 4G use in 2013. Orange filed an appeal at the Conseil d’Etat against the regulator’s authorisation in June 2013.