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European Spectrum Policy Advances

16 May 2011

On 11 May, the European Parliament adopted amendments to the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP) originally proposed by the European Commission to set policy for spectrum management in the EU. On 12 May, the presidency of the European Council issued a working paper revealing Council views on the RSPP. Together, the papers show that much work remains ahead before this important policy program is adopted.

 

European Spectrum Policy AdvancesOn 11 May, the European Parliament adopted amendments to the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP) (PDF 394 kb) originally proposed by the European Commission to set policy for spectrum management in the EU. This policy requires approval from both Parliament and Council as a legislative instrument. On 12 May, the presidency of the European Council issued a working paper (PDF 217 kb) revealing Council views on the RSPP. Together, the papers show that much work remains ahead before this important policy program is adopted.

The Commission adopted its RSPP proposal in September last year (PDF 83 kb). Subsequently, a committee of the European Parliament adopted a report chock full of amendments. Subjected to months of intensive lobbying, the report shows numerous changes to the Commission proposal, as well as some awkward legislative language. For an example of the latter, someone in the committee liked the idea of making a “pan-European level playing field,” as this amorphous phrase shows up nine times in various Parliamentary amendments. The Council paper, by contrast, is more tightly edited (with not a single reference to “level playing fields”), and substantively would narrow the scope of both the original proposal and the Parliamentary approach. The Council represents the European national governments, and many of the 27 EU Member States seek to protect their national sovereignty over spectrum management.

 

The RSPP covers a wide range of issues connected with use of spectrum by many different industries – while amendments from both the Parliament and Council touch on all these elements, the emphasis from both is all about mobile internet broadband.

The Parliamentary press release on the report is titled “More frequencies for mobile internet by 2013.” This title sums up the Parliament’s emphasis on the European goal “to deliver internet access throughout the EU by 2013 and reach high speed connections with at least 30 Mbps for all by 2020, thus bridging the digital divide.” The Council paper as well says that provisions for spectrum for wireless broadband are “the main and most urgent elements of the proposal.” Both EU institutions focus on achieving the “digital dividend” of releasing spectrum previously used by analogue TV in the 800 MHz frequency band for harmonized use of wireless broadband services by January 2013. Nevertheless, both texts would give the Member States room to ask for a postponement in this process to the end of 2015, or even longer. The Council’s version gives maximum (almost unlimited) room for such postponements.

The Parliament’s approach is more prescriptive on mobile broadband. For instance, the Parliament would make “at least 1200 MHz of spectrum available by 2015 for mobile data traffic (in amended article 3(a)); it would also retain an idea in the original Commission proposal to prescribe contiguous blocks of at least 10 MHz for broadband services. Neither of these concepts remains in the Council text.

Despite appearances, the RSPP is not all about mobile internet broadband, because it sets policy for all users of spectrum. For instance, Parliament would adjust language on public safety uses (in recital 18 and amended article 7.3) and satellite providers (article 6.6), as well as other sectors. Cognitive radio is mentioned at least three times in Parliament’s version. Heavy lobbying from broadcasters shows in several provisions (e.g. new recital 13a and new article 1.4). However, there is Member State push back to these concepts. The Council version protects more the current use of spectrum for public safety, order and defense but cuts back on Commission authority for this sector in article 7. The satellite provisions are much weakened. Cognitive radio is not mentioned.

There already was a heavy emphasis on ensuring competition and using regulatory tools in the original RSPP proposal. The Parliament’s amendments add additional stress – for instance, the emphasis on reserving spectrum for new entrants. By contrast, the Council version retains more discretion for the Member States and also makes clear that these remedies mainly apply to electronic communications networks and services, not to the universe of spectrum use at large.

One large area of disagreement is over the scope for EU participation in international negotiations concerning spectrum, i.e., mainly the ITU context. The Commission’s original proposal contained a power play that would insert the Commission further into ITU activities. The Parliament mainly approved this approach and proposed some language changes. The Council slices this provision out – the explanatory introduction to the paper says that the Council “confirmed the current arrangements for negotiating spectrum issues in international fora.”

We anticipate that there will numerous changes ahead for the RSPP. The Council working paper is not its final word on the subject and there will be changes up to the 27 May Council meeting. The next step in the European Union process is for the Council formally to review the proposal at a meeting on 27 May, to finalize its own set of amendments already outlined in the working paper. (Update on 20 May - the Council will not finalize its common position at the upcoming May meeting, and likely will defer reaching such a final position until October at the earliest.) The legislative process then swings back to the Parliament and Commission to seek to reconcile amendments for this “co-decision” piece of legislation, making it difficult to assess how quickly the RSPP will be adopted. All will be negotiated, and the question is how long this will take.

A Shared Vision for Spectrum

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Earlier this month, the U.K. took a small but significant step towards a future in which spectrum is shared rather than reserved for a particular use.  The ...

27 March 2014
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