New EU agency to have broad scope

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BRUSSELS -- The planned new EU telecoms authority will have a broad mandate to regulate digital television, mobile TV, Internet protocol-based systems and radio spectrum management, EU Media and Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding promised Tuesday.

In her first details about the proposed new agency, Reding said that a pan-European authority was needed to ensure that European consumers can enjoy a truly single market when it came to telecoms. "We need a strong European Union telecom market authority to provide consistency and cross border one-stop solutions," Reding said in Budapest.

Reding suggested the new telecoms authority in her package of reforms unveiled Nov. 13. But it was only in Budapest that she revealed the broad scope of the agency, which aims to boost competitiveness and help maintain the EU's leading global role in the sector.

"A patchwork of parochial interests is what we have today. There are some areas where economies of scale can be reaped," Reding said.

The plans already have generated concern amongst Europe's national regulators and established operators, who say the new authority will simply add another layer of bureaucracy to telecoms regulation, yet do little to improve competition. But Reding is confident EU governments will back the proposals that aim to set a level playing field across Europe on a wide range of telecoms, media and broadcasting questions.

One critical issue is the management of radio spectrum, vital for digital broadcasting. Although there will be a "digital dividend" of newly available spectrum once analog broadcasts are switched off, there are no clear rules on how to allocate it.

Reding said the authority would ensure that the market sets the price and bandwidth. But she promised fail-safe mechanisms to guarantee that, for example, mobile phone spectrum is not allocated too close to television broadcasts, which could create signal interference.

Reding also said the EU regulator will be able to set the ground rules for emerging mobile broadcasting technologies. "We won't get there without a single official EU standard," Reding said.

Earlier this year, Reding selected the DVB-H technology as the EU preferred standard, but operators, handset-makers and broadcasters still need to agree on other basic technologies before the system can take off.
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