Radio frequencies to be reallocated for broadband in EU

The European Commission has proposed a raft of new measures to get more Europeans online

The European Commission is planning to reassign radio frequencies for faster wireless services as part of a five-year plan outlined by Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes on Monday.

The proposal is part of the Digital Agenda, which aims to have broadband access for every European citizen by 2013. Under the new plan, the Commission wants member states that implement technical measures to prevent interference by 20012 to award wireless broadband licenses to operators for all spectrum bands.

The bands are the 900/1800 MHz bands, the 2.5GHz band and the 3.4GHz-to-3.8GHz band, but member states are also being told to open up the 800MHz band to wireless broadband by 1 January, 2013.

The proposal is based on the E.U.'s Single Market rules and envisages that CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) and the Commission's Joint Research Centre will oversee coordination across borders.

The plan would also request member states to maintain and promote effective competition between economic operators and to avoid spectrum hoarding.

The proposal forms part of a package of broadband measures and will be sent to the European Parliament and E.U. Council of Ministers for adoption.

Services that rely on the E.U.'s radio spectrum represent 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent of annual European GDP. This includes the European mobile phone industry, which supports 3.5 million jobs and generates around $US179 billion a year in taxes.

"Europe currently has the highest penetration of broadband in the world, but still only a quarter of Europeans have broadband and much of Asia has internet access 100 times faster," said Kroes. Currently only 1 per cent of Europeans have a high-speed fiber Internet connection at home, compared to 12 per cent of Japanese and 15 per cent of South Koreans. However, telecom operators have to make massive investments to deploy fiber networks, therefore the new package will also see more funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) as well as E.U. structural funds. More concrete proposals for specific financial instruments will be unveiled in early 2011. The EIB already lends around €2 billion a year to broadband projects. Recent beneficiaries include the French broadband operator Iliad, the Finnish operator DNA and the Portuguese operator Zon.

The deployment of fiber-based Next Generation Access (NGA) in the E.U. is still at a relatively early stage. The Commission's second goal is to get fast broadband access of at least 30M bps (bits per second) to all citizens by 2020, with at least 50 per cent of households subscribing to access at 100M bps, or so-called ultra-fast broadband.

Connection speeds of more than 50M bps could allow remote diagnostic examinations to patients, or give SMEs better access to cloud computing services that could make their business more competitive.

To this end, a commission recommendation for regulated access to NGA networks sets out a common regulatory approach for all E.U. member states aimed at creating a balance between encouraging investment and safeguarding competition. "This will provide increased regulatory clarity to all market players," said Kroes.

Under the E.U.'s telecoms rules, if competition is not effective, national regulators can impose regulatory measures on dominant firms. The new commission recommendation gives guidance on how to do this in fiber-based NGA markets. If member states don't follow the commission's recommendation, they are required to given a written explanation why not.

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