Member states reject Commission plan for 25-year spectrum licences

Bulgaria wants to push ahead talks on a draft reform of EU telecoms law when it takes over the lead on member states' legal negotiations in January. [Pexels]

EU member states have rejected a European Commission proposal to extend licences for wireless radio spectrum to last at least 25 years — one of the cornerstones of the EU executive’s new attempt to overhaul telecoms law.

The Estonian government, which is leading member state negotiations on EU legislation until the end of the year, has axed the measure requiring longer licences from its newest proposal on the telecoms bill.

Currently, licences allowing telecoms operators to use radio spectrum are auctioned off for an average of 15 to 20 years in EU countries.

Estonian diplomats working on the bill have asked other member states to submit alternative suggestions to replace the Commission’s requirement for 25-year spectrum licences that could “ensure investment certainty”.

Ninety percent of companies that responded to a Credit Suisse survey in June said that the proposal to extend licences to 25 years would increase their interest in investing in the telecoms sector.

MEPs and ministers hit back on EU plan for longer spectrum licenses

MEPs and national ministers are stripping down an EU proposal to change how wireless radio spectrum is sold to telecoms companies.

Telecoms companies have lobbied for new spectrum rules that would lengthen licences, which they argue could cut bureaucracy and lower prices at auctions.

“Member states will be invited to indicate whether there are any other approaches to licence duration which could help to further the objectives set out in the 5G declaration, particularly in creating a positive framework for investment,” the new Estonian proposal reads.

Last month, Estonia brokered an agreement between national telecoms ministers to make fast 5G mobile networks across the bloc. The two-page document included a pledge to “make more spectrum available in a timely and predictable manner”.

“It’s important to keep the level of ambition high and stay as close as possible to the original proposal of the Commission. Our ambition to deliver on 5G strictly depends on that,” said Alessandro Gropelli, spokesman for ETNO, a Brussels association that represents large telecoms operators including Deutsche Telekom and Orange.

National governments have frequently pushed back against the Commission’s latest attempt to align rules for auctioning off lucrative radio spectrum to mobile telecom operators across the EU.

Auctions in some member states bring millions of euros to finance ministers. The Commission presented its proposal in September 2016 but diplomats from member states have torn apart the measures to create common rules for spectrum licences.

Two European Parliament committees will vote on the telecoms proposal next month. MEPs’ amendments to the bill also soften the Commission proposal: they suggest adding a review clause 10 years after spectrum is auctioned off.

The EU executive has tried to reform radio spectrum rules in the past but member states rejected an attempt to create more common EU-wide measures when the previous Commission proposed the so-called connected continent legislation in 2013.

Estonia also proposed to “substantially modify” another part of the Commission’s bill that would give national telecoms regulators an arsenal of new powers to comment on conditions for spectrum auctions in other member states.

The Commission proposal would not give regulators the ability to veto other member states’ rules. Telecoms companies have lobbied for a peer review as a transparency measure that could discourage national regulators from introducing restrictive rules for firms to take part in auctions.

Thirteen member states double down on opposition to EU spectrum rules

A group of thirteen EU member states have doubled down on a pushback by national governments against the European Commission’s proposed changes to radio spectrum policy, arguing it will sweep away their powers to auction off spectrum to telecoms operators.

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