Consumers in developing Latin American countries are hard hit by high spectrum prices, finds GSMA study

July 24, 2018

Policy decisions on Spectrum remain a key obstacle to Digital Inclusion across the region

17 July 2018, Buenos Aires – Better spectrum pricing policies are needed in developing countries within Latin America to improve the economic and social welfare of the millions of people that remain unconnected to mobile broadband services, according to a new report, ‘Spectrum Pricing in Developing Countries’, released by the GSMA today. The study reveals that spectrum prices in developing countries globally are, on average, more than three times higher than in developed countries, when income is taken into account. This high spectrum pricing is a major roadblock to investments in new services and technologies, and therefore, a deterrent to increasing mobile internet penetration.

Authored by GSMA Intelligence, the study also found that governments are playing an active role in increasing spectrum prices to maximise state revenues from spectrum licensing. High spectrum prices are linked to countries with high levels of sovereign debt, and alarmingly average reserve prices in spectrum auctions are more than five times higher in developing countries than in developed, once income is accounted for. The report also identifies a link between high spectrum prices and poorer coverage, as well as more expensive and lower quality mobile broadband services, all of which hinder the take-up of services by consumers.

“Connecting everyone becomes impossible without better policy decisions on spectrum,” said, Sebastián Cabello, Head of Latin America, GSMA. “For far too long, the success of spectrum auctions has been judged on how much revenue can be raised rather than the economic and social benefits of connecting people. Spectrum policies that inflate prices and focus on short-term gains are incompatible with our shared goals of delivering better and more affordable mobile broadband services. These pricing policies will only limit the growth of the digital economy and make it harder to reduce inequalities and increase productivity that has enoumous welfare effects.”

The GSMA study assessed over 1,000 spectrum assignments across 102 countries (including 60 developing and 42 developed countries) from 2010 through 2017, making it the largest-ever analysis into spectrum pricing in developing countries, as well as the drivers and their potential impacts of spectrum pricing on consumers. The Latin American countries included in the analysis are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.

Setting high final prices administratively, setting high auction starting prices (e.g. reserve prices), annual fees, artificially limiting the amount of licensed spectrum available, not sharing a clear spectrum roadmap, and setting poor auction rules are some of the policy decisions highlighted in the report that are driving high spectrum prices in developing countries.

“If mobile operators don’t get affordable and predictable access to spectrum, it will be consumers who will suffer the most,” said Pau Castells, Director of Economic Analysis at GSMA Intelligence. “Developing countries across Latin America have the opportunity to catch up with the developed on mobile adoption; however the investment case in some of these markets is being put at risk. Operators cannot keep paying significantly more for spectrum when consumer incomes and expected profits are much lower in these markets. This is making network investment challenging at a time when policies should encourage the development of the mobile sector to maximise the benefits it can bring to everyone.”

The ‘Spectrum Pricing in Developing Countries’ report is available here in English and its key findings here as an infographic.

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