EU frequency rights will stay local

B'cast union says vote ensures DTT will remain free-to-air

BRUSSELS -- Europe's public and private broadcasters heaved sighs of relief Wednesday after a key vote that will ensure national governments keep control of broadcast and other radio frequencies.

There were fears that a Pan-European carve up of radio spectrum would force broadcasters to fight mobile phone operators and air traffic controllers for wireless frequencies. But the European Parliament voted to keep EU member states in charge of the spectrum freed up by broadcasters switching from analog to digital.

The Association of Commercial Television in Europe welcomed the move, saying that Europe's markets are too varied for one rule. For instance, some countries switched to digital broadcasting years ago while others remain years away.

And the European Broadcasting Union said that the vote ensures digital terrestrial transmission can remain free-to-air in a multiplatform environment.

The MEPs also voted to extend their "must-carry" rules -- which require cable companies to carry local and public radio and TV channels -- to all audiovisual media services. The EBU said it will strengthen consumer and user rights, ensuring access to a wide, varied range of radio and television channels and services.

Cable Europe, however, warned that extending the rules to on-demand services would oblige cable operators to offer the on-demand content library of any TV station with must-carry status.

"This would hinder the development of on-demand services via cable, still a relatively new and emerging part of the cable business," it said.