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Legislation may be needed to ensure the UK's 4G spectrum auction goes ahead in 2012 as planned, Ofcom has suggested.

The media regulator has now come to the same conclusion as Three, that some broadband providers may be deliberately holding up the process for commercial reasons.

Three has claimed for some months that rivals O2 and Vodafone were given an unfair competitive advantage when Ofcom allowed them to use surplus 900MHz spectrum for 3G mobile broadband.

As a consequence, the companies have been incentivised to hold up the auction of 4G spectrum for next-generation mobile data use, Three argued.

Ed Richards, Chief Executive at Ofcom, said it has been "very disappointing" to witness the extent to which the incumbent mobile operators have chosen to entangle the process in litigation or threats of litigation.

"We recognise, of course, the need for companies to defend their commercial interests and to have recourse to the law in order to do so," he told ECTA.

"If a regulator or any other public authority makes a decision that is either procedurally or substantively flawed, the right of appeal is there to ensure good decisions replace bad ones."

But Mr Richards said that where litigation becomes "essentially strategic" rather than based on objective grounds, and when it has the effect of holding back innovation and hampering growth, the legislature may have cause to intervene.

"Some major companies will have to reflect upon whether they have inadvertently jeopardised the benefits of objective, independent regulation in this area by virtue of their willingness to game the system," he stated.

He claimed that MPs would be all too willing to accept an argument which returns power in such matters to politicians.

Mr Richards said the apparent inability of the current model to make timely decisions is acting against the national interest.

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