The pitfalls of auctioning universal service – the Australian experience

John Bahtsevanoglou (John Bahtsevanoglou is based at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.)


ISSN: 1463-6697

Publication date: 16 March 2010



The purpose of this paper is to assess the degree to which auctioning the right to provide universal service is a viable option in developed countries with high teledensity and near ubiquitous fixed line and mobile networks. The paper also aims to provide signposts on the types of issues regulators need to consider and resolve when designing auctioning mechanisms for the competitive provision of universal service.


The paper examines the nature and scope of universal service, the approaches that have been used to identify the costs of universal service provision and the difficulties in using an auction process to allocate the right to provide universal service in countries with near ubiquitous network infrastructure. Australia is used as a case study on the difficulties of using auctions to encourage new entry in universal service areas served by a powerful incumbent. The paper also examines the types of issues regulators need to resolve when designing auction mechanisms for universal service provision.


The paper concludes that for developed countries, it is unclear whether the use of auctions for the provision of universal service will have the desired effect of ensuring a market‐based approach to service provision. This is because the risks associated with becoming an alternative universal service provider are likely to outweigh the benefits of doing so. Further, the risks faced by an alternative universal service provider are not borne by the incumbent operator thus further increasing the disincentive to bid for the right to provide universal service. The paper also concludes that the practical design of the universal service rights and obligations which will be attached to a winning bidder's license conditions is an extremely important mechanism by which some of the risks to potential universal service providers can be overcome.


The paper stimulates thinking about whether universal service auctions are a viable means of providing universal service in developed countries. In presenting empirical evidence of the difficulties in using auctions to introduce competition in universal service provision, the paper may provide valuable input to the regulatory proceedings associated with introducing universal service contestability arrangements that are currently being conducted in various countries.



Bahtsevanoglou, J. (2010), "The pitfalls of auctioning universal service – the Australian experience", info, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 57-79.

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