EU reviews telecoms' use of radio spectrum

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BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament voted Wednesday in Brussels to allow broadcasters and mobile phone companies to compete in an open market for spectrum capacity in a bid to help boost the emerging wireless industry.

Members of the European Parliament echoed plans proposed last year by the European Commission, the European Union's executive body, for auctions to overcome the fragmented approach in which bands of spectrum are reserved for one service only, such as TV or mobile phones.

The report, drafted by British Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall, called for tradable rights and clear standards on service and technology neutrality in the EU's future policy on radio spectrum. The measures reflect the parliament's belief that the once heavily regulated EU telecoms market has grown robust enough to sustain competition from different operators.

The plans should make it easier for operators to roll out third-generation broadband services. The changes will allow the phone companies such as Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom to send products such as video clips and fast-speed Internet access over radio frequencies now limited to slow speed so-called second-generation services.

The move paves the way for a combined market for TV, radio and Internet spectrum auctions that could see one country's airwaves being bought and sold by companies in a different territory.

The MEPs also said adequate amounts of spectrum should be allocated to ensure the stability and continuity of media services provided by broadcasters. "From a technical, regulatory, administrative, political and economic point of view, the relation between access and distribution has been very complex," Hall said. "Key to a more efficient use of spectrum is the principle of service and technology neutrality. When access to spectrum is without restriction on the service to be offered on a particular bandwidth or the technology to be used for the delivery of that service, then spectrum-dependent innovation is able to flourish."

Most of the spectrum will become available when analog TV signals are switched off in the transfer to digital television, the so-called "digital dividend." The total value of services that already depend on use of the radio spectrum in the EU exceeds €200 billion ($252 billion), more than 2% of the European GDP. But a certain amount of regulation will be needed as technology from one region does not always work, at present, in another.

Broadcasters have raised concerns that different technologies operating adjacent to their bandwidths are likely to cause significant interference. Hall said that technical constraints and interference might initially prevent some frequencies being used. "But given the pace of current technological change, the likelihood is that new technical solutions will make interference less of a problem in the longer term," she said.
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