EBU warns against EC mandate

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BRUSSELS -- The European Broadcasting Union and the European Commission were at cross-purposes Wednesday as the EC announced that it has backed DVB-H technology, urging governments to roll out services using the standard "as quickly as possible."

The EBU responded to the move, warning that it is too early to consider mandating standards for mobile television broadcasting, despite the market confusion about the nascent technology. The group further insisted that the EU should let the market settle the issue before intervening.

"Public broadcasters believe that the pace of technological development precludes the adoption of any one standard for mobile broadcasting at this stage," EBU president Fritz Pleitgen said. "It should be up to businesses to define attractive business models that will entice consumers to opt for the standard they like best."

The EC has warned that Europe's governments and industries must speed up the rollout of mobile TV services. While South Korea has a mobile TV penetration rate of 10%, the rate in Italy, the 27-member EU's most advanced market, is less than 1%.

"Europe is today at a crossroads," EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said. "We can either take the lead globally -- as we did for mobile telephony based on the GSM standard developed by the European industry -- or allow other regions take the lion's share of the promising mobile TV market."

Reding said that the DVB-H standard will be "legally encouraged" among all EU member states. If necessary, the use of the technology could be mandated as of next year. The Commission said that 2008 will be crucial for mobile TV adoption as people will want to watch the Beijing Summer Olympic Games and the European Football Championship on handsets.

The EC also asked EU member states to make spectrum available for mobile broadcasting as quickly as possible, including in the UHF band. And it called on governments to ensure their national regulatory environments are as light and transparent as possible to encourage investment and innovation.

Mobile TV could be a market of up to €20 billion ($27.5 billion) by 2011 and reach some 500 million customers worldwide, the EC said, but Europe is still far behind rivals in the sector. Mobile television services have been available in the U.S. since 2003 and since 2005 in South Korea. In Europe, such services are only available in Finland, France, Germany and Italy.
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