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European Spectrum Regulation May 2011 Deadline

24 March 2011

When the European Union amended its electronic communications regulatory framework in late 2009, it gave the EU Member States eighteen months to implement the new rules. That time is almost up.

When the European Union amended its electronic communications regulatory framework in late 2009, it gave the EU Member States eighteen months to implement the new rules. That time is almost up. By May 2011, all countries in the EU are supposed to have set up rules on spectrum management and competition that can have some big impacts on all spectrum users.

In particular, the 2009 revisions place a new and higher emphasis on competition. The revisions add a requirement that Member States must start to review all existing licenses for radio spectrum and take measures to promote fair competition beginning from the May 2011 deadline.

New rules say that all spectrum authorizations must be technology and service neutral. In other words, regulators are not supposed to specify the type of technology that operators use or the services they provide. These rules also start from the deadline. There are many exceptions to these rules, but they set up a principle of flexibility and neutrality. New licenses have to meet these standards; existing licenses have up to March 2016 to comply.

The spectrum rules have a variety of other important new provisions. There is a provision against spectrum “hoarding” that permits regulators to set out strict deadlines to use their spectrum – a use it or lose it rule. There is another rule for the regulators to make sure competition is not distorted by any spectrum trade or accumulation of licenses. This rule gives the regulators broad authority even to order a spectrum user to sell or lease frequencies.

All of these near term deadlines are set up against a background that Europe has set new important goals for ensuring broadband communications networks. Europe has set the goal of ensuring 30 Mbps coverage for all Europeans by 2020, and making sure that half of all European households have access to 100 Mbps coverage by that time. These goals can only be achieved by using wireless communications networks in many areas of Europe. Those networks, in turn, are subject to the new rules that must be in place in less than two months.

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