European broadcasters highlight dangers from EU spectrum proposals
Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

The European Commission has adopted proposals for a reform of the EU telecoms rules. With the reform, the Commission wants to enable citizens, wherever they live and wherever they travel in the EU, to benefit from better and cheaper communication services, whether they use mobile phones, fast broadband internet connections or cable TV.

To achieve this, the Commission proposes strengthening consumer rights; giving consumers more choice by reinforcing competition between telecoms operators; promoting investment into new communication infrastructures, in particular by freeing radio spectrum for wireless broadband services; and making communication networks more reliable and more secure, especially in case of viruses and other cyber-attacks.

A new European Telecom Market Authority will support the Commission and national telecoms regulators in ensuring that market rules and consumer regulation are applied consistently, independently and without protectionism in all 27 EU Member States. To become law, the Commission proposals will now need to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers.

The EU’s proposals have alarmed Europe’s broadcasters. A press release from the European Broadcasting Union warns that opening up broadcasting bands to mobile telephony could create significant interference problems.

“Interference is not a trivial problem. Viewers and listeners who have invested in digital equipment must be guaranteed stable reception and high-quality sound and video”, say the broadcasters. Interference from mobile phones could cause sudden and complete loss of picture and/or sound.

One of the Commission’s proposals, service neutrality, would allow all areas of radio spectrum to be used for any purpose. The EBU says that if mobile phones were permitted in the broadcasting bands, consumers might suffer from widespread and far-reaching interference, even if “sub-bands” for mobile applications were introduced in the broadcasting bands.

Furthermore, broadcasters believe that, “market-based management of radio spectrum in the broadcasting bands is a threat to Europe’s broadcasting systems”. Flexibility and spectrum trading may increase the revenue of some players, but may limit efficient use of the spectrum and the plurality of the offer. If spectrum is designated to add value, it should not only be about money. They emphasise that, “Consumers have the right to expect more, and not less, from the digital switch-over”.

While broadcasters are pleased that the Commission recognises the need to allow for exceptions to the principle of service neutrality, they say this is not enough. The structures of broadcasting and media markets around Europe differ widely, as do public needs and expectations. Therefore, “Member States must retain their freedom to decide on spectrum use in the broadcasting bands, in order to promote their audiovisual policies, media pluralism, cultural and linguistic diversity”, the broadcasting industry says.

(Sources: European Commission/EBU)