The use of spectrum frequencies is a crucial input into the development of several major EU policies. It touches on the European economy and competitiveness as a whole.
Pearse O'Donohue (Head of Unit 'Radio Spectrum Policy', DG Information Society and Media, European Commission) made it clear that what is to come will not only disrupt old models, but that the Digital Dividend also extends beyond the usual suspects such as the cable operators, TV broadcasters, and mobile phone operators.
The digital dividend is not the property of any sector, he reiterated. It is a public good that has to be managed to the benefit of society. That means taking all platforms into account and to have a broad look at horizontal policy in the spirit of the 2020 vision. As such, it is vital in the discussion that Member States agree on a date to switch off analogue broadcasting in the 800 MHz spectrum by 2012. This is the only way to create the economies of scale that will bring about lower network costs and standardized consumer equipment.
The international dimension of the debate is another crucial element in making spectrum policy a success. Spectrum does not stop at borders and therefore the EU must coordinate its position within ITU. What Europe must realize is that spectrum policy is a developmental policy that will have to be discussed and negotiated over time. We must ensure that we do not create a framework that causes problems in 5 or 10 years. Similarly, operators need a stable framework to safely make the investments needed for wireless broadband.
Manuel Kohnstamm (President of Cable Europe and Managing Director for Public Policy and Communications, Liberty Global Europe) made a similar plea urging to act on spectrum issues and added that interference needs to be considered into this debate as a serious issue. Interference is a loss of signal or connectivity caused by other devices in the close proximity of a TV that have an overlap in the same spectrum. If the screen goes blank in the middle of an important football match, nobody will ask who owns the spectrum, consumers will simply be unhappy, he illustrated. However, no single user should carry the financial burden regarding interference.
Ross Biggam (Director General ACT – Association of Commercial Television in Europe) gave the broadcaster perspective. There are currently 7,200 broadcasters in Europe and the average European citizen watches over 3.5 hours a day of TV in real time or on demand. His view on the opening of the 800 MHz band was that if neighboring countries are willing to clear the spectrum band then that is great news. His concern however is that European media markets have been frustratingly difficult to harmonize. Spain for instance has a broadcast model where spectrum allocation is regulated at both federal and regional level. This could mean that less spectrum may be available in Spain for instance, a part of the discussion which needs to be taken into account.
Harald Geywitz (Representative of GSMA Europe and ECTA, Head of Government Relations, E-Plus Gruppe) reflected on the planned auction of spectrum in Germany in the near future. He pondered the question about the impact on the competitive situation in the market after such an auction, and whether it will create a precedent at the European level vis-à-vis affordable prices for universal broadband access.