The Australian Government is about to sell real estate worth billions.  It is a matter of critical economic importance that they get it right.

Up for sale is radio spectrum for mobile phones and data signals for the next fifteen years.

This is real estate as rare and precious as the land we walk upon: only one transmitter can broadcast on each frequency, hence the need for licences.

Royal Bank of Scotland estimated the licences would be worth $4.1 billion to the government at auction, in today’s money, based on the original prices paid for them.

That’s a lot of public funds, and the mobile phone operators are weaseling around, sleazing around to reduce the amount they will have to pay. With billions at stake, a little PR work to shift the boundaries is a good investment.

They protest high fees will be passed on to consumers – you and me.

They are lying through their teeth.

Any attempt to pass on the cost of spectrum to consumers will be met with howls of derisive laughter and switching between providers.  Their services are commodities, as they very well know.

Their real agenda is to capture and privatize the economic rents that belong to us, that we are entitled to enjoy in the form of lower taxes or better services.

The Communications Department and Australian Communications and Media Authority have asked the mobile phone operators, Vodafone, Optus and Telstra, to submit bids – and without good bids will go to a spectrum auction.

There are three ways business can compete – price, service or by advertising.  The high prices we pay, poor service we receive and tidal wave of advertising we endure make it clear on which field the mobile phone operators have chosen to compete.

So, mobile phone operators, do your sums.  Work out what the spectrum is worth and make your best offer.

Mobile telephony has been revolutionized in the last fifteen years.  Citizens cannot envisage what the industry will look like a decade hence.  But the mobile phone operators can.

This industry is dangerously concentrated and uncompetitive – an oligarchy. If they want to maintain this cosy set up, they can write a very big cheque for the privilege.