Roberto Sánchez is in charge of a secretariat of state with several work fronts at a time when telecommunications companies have put their networks into value because of the pandemic: the 5G spectrum auction, the plans to boost broadband and European funds, and the new telecom and audiovisual laws.
You have several tasks underway, what goals have you set for yourself?
We arrived with some plans, but we encountered the pandemic. One of the effects has been the awareness on the part of society of the relevance of the telecom networks that, in the hardest moments, were the only means to maintain life as we know it. Teleworking, online sales, remote education, leisure … Five years ago it would not have been possible. Before the pandemic there were important things, which are now urgent, such as digital gaps, access, literacy or accessibility.
What plans has your department put in place?
We have given a boost with the implementation of three major plans. Digital Connectivity, to accelerate broadband and support business recovery; promotion of 5G, due to its transforming effect on the economy; and the plan to turn Spain into a pole of the audiovisual world.
What will be the weight of European funds in these plans?
In all there will be extensive use of EU recovery funds, in combination with our projects. It is almost a circus with three tracks, the recovery funds, the own plans and the budgets. The connectivity plan includes an investment of 583 million euros in the 2021 budget, which will come from European funds. In 5G there are 300 million, for 109 million for audiovisual. European funds will grow in 2021, 2022 and 2023, with a total of 2 billion in connectivity and 1.5 billion in 5G.
How will access to European aid be articulated?
We are in the process of defining the instruments, and the approval of a royal decree law on administrative simplification measures is underway. To manage such a volume of resources, we need some new procedures. In some cases there will be PEBA-type calls, but there will also be new formulas.
The sector is facing the 700 MHz auction, where is it?
We continue with the idea of doing it in the first quarter. Previously, the band had to be released from the second digital dividend, which has gone very well. For the first time, the conditions of the auction will be submitted to a public hearing, so that there is greater transparency. It had not been done until now. We will release it before the end of the year, so that it can be answered until mid-January.
Companies and unions have criticized the 2.1 billion collection figure established in the state budget. What will the auction be like?
It will be like all those done so far. With a starting price to be determined, and from there it will be the dynamics of the auction itself that determines the final price. I know that there has been noise for the figure that appears in the budgets, but as such, it is only a forecast of the income that can be obtained, it does not mean that it is the starting price.
The companies say that previous auctions had never reached those figures.
That amount has never been reached. The end result may be above or below. In no case is it the starting price. This is the message of calm that I try to carry. If so, we would be talking about very high amounts, and it would be what they call a collection auction. But, in Spain there have not been auctions with exclusively tax collection purposes. Auctions are a very transparent element to award a public resource that has a lot of value, and is not subject to interpretation.
Will there be coverage requirements?
We are going to submit it to public consultation to see the associated conditions. Sure, there will be some coverage obligations, but it will depend on the results of the consultation. We do not have it totally closed.
Will there be payment facilities?
In the previous auction, the 3.5 GHz one, it was established that the payment was deferred throughout the 20-year concession period. But, what was proposed to facilitate payment, ended up receiving criticism, in the sense that, by postponing payments, it is forced to apply the official interest rate, while operators are financed in the markets in a cheaper way . Therefore, this time it has been deleted, unless it can be reintroduced because we are told about it. It will be a payment.
Another pending auction is that of the spectrum affected by some uses of the Ministry of Defense.
Yes, from the 3.5 GHz band, of which 40 MHz are not awarded, because they were not taken in the previous auction. We are going to tender 20 MHz. Before the end of the year we plan to call the auction so that it can be tendered in January.
Is there interest from operators?
Yes, we understand that it is. We have pending the reorganization of the 3.5 GHz band. Several of the operators have the frequencies in separate chunks, and it is more efficient for their use, to have them together. The reorganization of the band is pending, which will be done after this auction.
With regard to the new General Telecommunications Law, at what point is?
We have received 500 contributions, after the public hearing process. We are analyzing them, and I hope that we can have a new draft in January, and that it reaches Congress in April. It doesn’t have many contentious issues. There are novel elements in universal service, which will open the debate. Cabs are going to disappear, while the concept of speed suitable for broadband is introduced.
In relation to the Audiovisual Law, how are issues such as OTTs going to be addressed?
The issue of OTT is addressed in both laws, more in the audiovisual one. In current law there are obligations for linear television, but not for platforms. In the current directive, it has already been proposed to balance the obligations of each other as much as possible, but it fell short. We have tried to level the playing field, but we can’t go any further.