Radio spectrum is the backbone of modern wireless technologies and services such as broadband internet, mobile telephony and broadcasting, Bluetooth, satellite navigation systems, air traffic control, weather forecasting, etc. With more and more new applications emerging, frequencies have become a scarce resource that many stakeholders are bidding for.
Make wireless services EU-wide interoperable
Today spectrum is often inefficiently used. Spectrum allocation and management need to be reformed, to accommodate emerging new applications. Moreover, coordination at EU level has become necessary to enable spectrum users to operate EU-wide services without harmful interference - that is to ensure, for example, that you are able to connect to mobile TV services while travelling abroad.
The electronic communications framework directive, as revised by the Industry Committee, therefore requires Member States to co-operate with each other and the Commission in the strategic planning, co-ordination and harmonisation of radio spectrum use. To this end, the Commission should table a legislative proposal for a radio spectrum action programme, says the co-decision report by Catherine Trautmann (PES, FR).
Use the "digital dividend" to bridge the digital divide
Up to now, specific services have been chosen for each frequency band. For example, wide bands in the range up to 1 GHz are reserved for broadcasters because they serve a specific general interest purpose. However, digitisation allows the transmission of 6 to 8 TV channels in the spectrum space previously needed for just one analogue channel. The switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial TV by the end of 2012 will therefore free up a significant amount of high-quality spectrum, known as the "digital dividend".
This freed-up spectrum could, for example, be used for additional TV programmes, mobile broadband, radio-frequency identification (RFID) applications (such as road charge collection or biometric passports), road safety applications and new e-services such as e-government or e-health, stresses the Industry Committee's own-initiative report, drafted by Patrizia Toia (ALDE, IT). The released frequencies could accommodate new and open broadband technologies and access services which will help overcome the "digital divide", say MEPs.
Allow any frequency to be used for any application...
The electronic communications framework reform seeks to introduce service and technology neutrality as binding principles, i.e. any frequency band may be used for any application. Thus, a band which is now used for broadcasting could, for instance, be switched to provide wireless broadband services in the future. The Industry Committee backs this approach but stipulates that spectrum allocation must nevertheless comply with national frequency allocation plans and with the International Telecommunication Union's Radio Regulations.
This new, more flexible approach to spectrum management will also allow secondary trading of frequencies, another novelty introduced by the revised framework directive. In future, undertakings will be able to transfer or lease their individual rights to use frequencies in certain bands to other undertakings, so long as this transfer is in line with national frequency allocation plans.
...but safeguard media pluralism
Only general interest aims - such as ensuring safety of life, promoting social, regional or territorial cohesion, avoiding inefficient use of radio frequencies, or promoting cultural and linguistic diversity and media pluralism - can justify measures which require a service to be supplied in a specific frequency band.
Broadcasters' right to use the part of the radio frequencies they need to fulfil the specific general interest objective of delivering broadcasting services remains unchanged. Yet, "the part of their radio frequencies which becomes unnecessary for the fulfilment of that objective shall be subject to the new assignment procedure", says the electronic communications framework directive as amended by the Industry Committee.
No time to waste for re-allocation of digital dividend
"The immediacy of switchover in some Member States and the differences in national switchover plans require a response at Community level that cannot wait until the reform directives enter into force", says the own-initiative report on the digital dividend. MEPs call on the Commission to propose measures to Parliament and Council for better coordinating the use of the digital dividend at EU level.
Moreover, Member States, together with the Commission, should identify common spectrum sub-bands of the digital dividend for different application clusters that could be harmonised on a technology-neutral basis. The Industry Committee supports the idea of dividing the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) spectrum into clusters for uni-directional services such as fixed or mobile broadcasting and other mobile multimedia services and for bi-directional services such as wireless broadband. A coordinated approach is "the most efficient way to avoid harmful interference", say MEPs.