The European Commission’s proposed Digital Single Market strategy, unveiled this week, seeks to introduce common rules for radio spectrum allocation across the EU, a sensitive issue for member states who have defeated previous attempts.
The Commision’s DSM strategy, presented on Wednesday (6 May), addresses spectrum policy, as part of its broader push for new telecom regulations, expected in 2016.
But a key proposal to issue spectrum jointly at a European level could face resistance from member states, which profit from lucrative spectrum auctions.
Previous attempts at “Europeanising” spectrum policy were unsuccessful.
The Connected Continent strategy introduced by former Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes originally sought unified rules on spectrum use. But member states in the Council later removed those provisions from the regulation.
Ansip: ‘We don’t want to touch member states money’
The Commission is now coming back with a second, less ambitious attempt, to coordinate the auctioning process for allocating spectrum band, which would continue to take place at national level.
Andrus Ansip and Günther Oettinger, the two Commissioners currently leading on the digital agenda, both acknowledged it would be a challenge to get member states to sign off on common criteria for spectrum auctions.
Speaking at the Digital Single Market announcement in Brussels, Ansip called for “deep cooperation” on spectrum policy, and sought to reassure national governments. “We don’t want to touch member states’ money,” he insisted.
“The member states are still stepping on the brakes, and we think that’s wrong,” Oettinger said of the tug-of-war over spectrum policy.
The Digital Single Market strategy calls European spectrum policy necessary to incentivise investment. Some countries were slow at allocating the 800 MHz band used for mobile communications, and lagged behind in rolling out 4G technology for mobile networks as a result.
To even out those differences and enable a Digital Single Market, the Commission is proposing introducing common rules for the timing of national regulators’ spectrum auctions.
While the DSM strategy mentions the 700 MHz band will be used to expand broadband, it also briefly references the audiovisual industry, generally critical of the plans to repurpose the 700 MHz brand now used for television.
“The Commission will make specific proposals regarding the coordinated release of the 700 MHz band, which is particularly well-suited for ensuring the provision of broadband services in rural areas, while accommodating the specific needs of audiovisual media distribution,” according to the proposal.
Varying conditions that affect spectrum assignment across the EU would also be included in the Commission’s planned rules, including inconsistencies in pricing, areas covered by spectrum and competition regulations focusing on cable network providers. However, the strategy documents do not detail how those rules would be enforced in individual member states.
Calling out those countries that have been slow to introduce spectrum, Ansip told journalists:
“We have to provide 700 MHz for data. It’s in the interest of our citizens. It’s in the interest of our industries. But once again, sorry to say, in some EU member states, even MHz is still used by military forces, and not by innovative technologies people are asking for.”
Outpacing any EU regulation, Germany’s national telecommunications regulator, the Bundesnetzagentur, will start auctioning spectrum from the 700 MHz band for mobile on 27 May.
Agency president Jochen Homann said earlier this year that Germany will be the first country in Europe to allocate 700 MHz band spectrum for mobile broadband. That frequency, Homann noted, “should notably improve the broadband supply in rural places”.
German spectrum auctions have been outstandingly lucrative. For example, the UMTS auction, fifteen years ago, brought in €50 billion in profits.