Radio spectrum issues unite Euro broadcasters

Reform package flawed, they argue

Broadcasters risk having their signals blocked by mobile phone operators if the European Commission's plans to sell radio spectrum are signed off on, a coalition of Europe's top broadcasters warned Thursday.

The commission's plans, due to be unveiled next Tuesday in a major telecoms reform package, will propose selling the open market radio frequencies used by broadcasters, mobile phone operators and air traffic controllers. But the coalition argues that this could lead to mobile phones signals interfering with television broadcasts.

The group included the European Broadcasters Union, the Association of European Radios, RTL Group, ProSiebenSat.1, and French media giant Lagardere. They said the risk of interference was particularly high in the UHF band, which is being sought by both digital TV broadcasters and mobile phone operators. If the signals are too close, then a single mobile phone call near a television could block a digital TV signal.

"Interference is not a trivial problem. Viewers and listeners who have invested in digital equipment must be guaranteed stable reception and high-quality sound and video," the broadcasters said in a statement.

The coalition's representative, Philip Laven, said the issue will become even more pressing with the advent of HDTV, which needs more bandwidth — and, therefore, more spectrum — than standard digital TV.

Broadcasters and mobile phone operators rely on radio spectrum, but they also have to jostle with a growing number of new applications. Over the next few years, more radio spectrum will become available as a result of the switch-off of analog broadcasting — the so-called "digital dividend."

EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding's plan is expected to move away from rigid management approaches that tie usage rights of spectrum bands to specific transmission technologies.