'Payback's a bitch' 3G operators tell government

'Up yours, Mr Blair - we've paid your billions and now it's payback time'...

'Up yours, Mr Blair - we've paid your billions and now it's payback time'...

Debt-laden mobile network operators, still wincing from spending billions on 3G licences, may have found a way to claw back some of their expenditure - and it involves indirectly turning the screw on the same governments that bled them dry two to three years ago. Nearly every second-generation mobile network operator in Europe had to pay national governments hundreds of millions if not billions of euros for 3G spectrum licences, though there have been the odd exceptions, such as in Finland or further afield in Japan. But those hard-up operators may now have been presented with the perfect opportunity to recoup a large proportion of that outlay. In an advisory note issued today, Strand Consult notes that no 3G licences contained any 'must carry' or universal obligation clauses for public service broadcasters (PSBs) such as the BBC. A problem could therefore arise when broadcasters look to put their content on mobile phones but the operators hold out for big paydays - effectively holding PSBs to ransom. Should that happen, the argument goes, the PSBs will have to pay, looking to governments for the additional funds. John Strand, CEO of Strand Consult, said: "It doesn't look like a big problem now. This is not something big media companies have been coming to us about. But in five to ten years mobile will be one of the big, very powerful media channels." At the moment, operators such as 3 - which has now launched in the UK with ITN as a video news provider - are looking at exclusive news partners but it is in the media companies' interest to seek as wide a distribution as possible. Strand added: "In the UK, for example, the operators can say 'Up yours, Mr Blair - we've paid your billions and now it's payback time'. The governments were so greedy." But will only the governments considered greedy be made to pay? It could be that in countries such as Finland operators realise they have no obligation to give broadcasters access and so follow the path of networks in other countries, indirectly forcing governments that never asked for 3G billions to fork out. The BBC was not available for comment.