5G frequency permits discussed by both Supreme Court and Riigikogu

Mobile communications tower.
Mobile communications tower. Source: ERR

Levikom has contested the circuit court ruling according to which the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (MKM) was right when it only included three frequency bands in the state's 5G competition and taken the matter to the Supreme Court. The ministry has also been summoned by a Riigikogu select committee. The competition has been frozen.

Tallinn Circuit Court ruled on December 11 last year that the state was right to only issue three 5G frequency permits after the initial regulation was contested by telecommunications firm Levikom. CEO of Levikom Peep Põldsamm vowed to appeal the circuit court ruling at the time.

The Supreme Court told ERR that Levikom Eesti OÜ's complaint was registered on January 10. Whether the Supreme Court will decide to hear the matter and when remains unclear.

The court saga continuing means that the 5G competition has been put on hold for an unspecified time.

The main point of contention in administrative and circuit courts was whether issuing three permits instead of four constitutes restricting entrepreneurial freedom and whether it is in accordance with the law. Levikom maintains that the regulation has not been drawn up properly and only issuing three permits caters to the interests of Estonia's three major mobile telecommunication service providers – Telia, Elisa and Tele 2.

Because Levikom has made a lot of noise about the competition and halted the process of adopting 5G in Estonia, the Riigikogu Anti-Corruption Select Committee has now taken an interest in the matter.

Deputy Secretary General of MKM Siim Sikkut appeared before the committee on Thursday last, with the matter discussed again on Monday. Committee chair Katri Raik (SDE) told ERR that the committee wanted to know whether the competition has been transparent enough.

Raik said that while no great lapses were discovered in how the competition was handled, there were a few remarks.

"The ministry held talks with all four parties before drawing up the regulation, but they should take greater care recording their talks," Raik said.

MKM told ERR that the matter landed on the select committee's desk following a complaint from Levikom.

"We emphasize that this is an ongoing legal dispute where two court instances have found that MKM has not broken the law or restricted competition regarding the 3.6 Gigahertz competition. The ministry and its officials have always proceeded based on communications market considerations and national interests," said ministry spokesperson Laura Laaster.

Katri Raik said that the select committee will also invite the Riigikogu economic affairs and national defense committees to participate in proceedings.

Levikom's tax arrears a problem

When the administrative court ruled in favor of MKM last September, the ruling read that because Levikom has failed to file audited annual reports for the past two years and owes tax arrears, it is unlikely the company would have been allowed to participate in the competition in the first place. "Therefore, the company has no reason to contest only three permits being put up for auction," the court's judgment read.

The company owing taxes also bothered the anti-corruption committee. "Because Levikom still owes tax arrears, it is a serious argument against allowing them to participate in the tender," Raik said.

That was not the only thing bothering the committee chairman. "Levikom has frequently turned to the committee, both via letters and phone calls. Turning to individual members by making calls and sending letters does not make Levikom look good as we are the anti-corruption committee. It makes Levikom look very peculiar," Raik said.

Põldsamm told ERR last September that those are not the points of contention. "That is so illogical and off the point. The court case does not concern the rights and obligations of Levikom, it concerns ensuring a free market for next generation communications services," Põldsamm said at the time.

Even though the tender has been put on hold for the time being, the ministry believes the delay will not prove too damaging.

"The court dispute has no doubt slowed down the process of issuing frequency permits and consequently the development of 5G networks. At the same time, we cannot say Estonia has fallen far behind other countries," Laura Laaster said.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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