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Ofcom unveils 4G auction plans

Plans could see mobile broadband rolled out to at least 98 per cent of people in UK.

Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, has revealed that 4G auction plans for mobile services in the country will begin by the end of 2012.

The auction will offer at least two spectrum bands - 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz, which add up to 250 MHz of additional mobile spectrum, compared to 333 MHz in use today. The spectrum bands will be auctioned to bidders as a series of lots.

The auction will offer the equivalent of three quarters of the mobile spectrum currently in use, which is roughly 80 per cent more than released in the 3G auction in 2000.

Ofcom claims that the plans should see mobile broadband rolled out to at least 98 per cent of people in villages, towns and cities across the UK.
To ensure that UK consumers continue to benefit from a competitive market, Ofcom has also decided to reserve some of the available spectrum for a fourth national wholesaler other than the three largest mobile operators.

Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, said: “The 4G auction has been designed to deliver the maximum possible benefit to consumers and citizens across the UK. As a direct result of the measures Ofcom is introducing, consumers will be able to surf the web, stream videos and download e-mail attachments on their mobile device from almost every home in the UK.”

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.