UPDATE 1-Czech 5G frequencies auction draws seven bidders

(Adds detail, background)

PRAGUE, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Seven groups have applied to take part in the Czech Republic’s auction for new frequencies for next-generation 5G networks, telecoms regulator CTU said on Thursday.

The country is aiming to draw a fourth operator into the market to compete against incumbents O2 Czech Republic , T-Mobile and Vodafone and push prices down.

Politicians and consumers have long complained prices are too high. A European Commission report in 2019 found the Czech market among the four most expensive in Europe.

The country will auction frequencies in the 700 MHz and 3.4-3.5 GHz bands. CTU did not disclose names of the seven interested bidders and those taking part are not allowed to comment at this stage.

Czech groups Nordic Telecom and Sazka, a pan-Europe lottery operator, have expressed interest in the past in the auction. Another potential bidder, central Europe’s largest listed utility CEZ, said earlier it did not apply.

The auction has been hit by delays, including after the CTU’s previous chief quit in January because of a spat over government changes to the tender conditions that he said risked slowing 5G’s rollout.

Incumbents have also filed complaints either with the European Commission or Prague courts over some conditions, such as national roaming requirements or small bandwidth space.

The CTU said on Thursday Prague courts had rejected attempts to stop the auction.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Jane Merriman