EC wants Europe-wide mobile rules

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BRUSSELS -- The European Commission on Wednesday proposed new rules to license mobile satellite services at the Europe-wide level, in an effort to ensure mobile TV develops smoothly throughout Europe.

The measures aim to replace the EU's 27 national markets for mobile satellite services with a single European market. They also would ensure that the commission itself plays a role in the licensing process as the EU's effective clearinghouse for mobile satellite services.

With the overall global market for satellite communications and its applications estimated to be about €70 billion ($94.5 billion), and growing at some 7% per year, the Commission is concerned that national bureaucracies will tie down eventual Europe-wide operations.

EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said the market included a massive range of potential applications. "Think mobile television, think broadband for all, think public protection and disaster relief," she said. "The new way the commission proposes today to select mobile satellite services will give Europe's industry the necessary confidence to invest in new EU-wide services for citizens. It will also help bridge the digital divide by improving coverage in the EU's remote areas."

Current international rules for satellite communications do not cover licensing, while EU rules leave the selection of operators to national governments. The result is a hodgepodge of diverging national approaches to selection and authorization that is hampering the growth of pan-European mobile satellite systems.

For example, companies that want to offer mobile broadband data services currently need authorization and a license in each of the 27 member states. "Today, there is no such thing as a mobile satellite service that is functioning yet, because it is not economical to offer services under current system of 27 different licenses," commission spokesman Martin Selmayr said. The coordination should also lead to a more efficient use of radio spectrum, a crucial resource for mobile broadcasting, he said.

The plans -- which should be approved by the European Parliament and EU governments early next year -- call for a "one-stop shop mechanism," under which the company in question can ask the EC for a license. The commission would then organize the selection of companies that could offer the service, which would then receive a national license according to the same format everywhere in the EU.

The commission's target date for completing the EU selection process is early 2009.
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