EBU expresses 700 MHz DTT concerns
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has welcomed the European Commission’s High Level Group report recommending that the EU safeguard access to spectrum below 700 MHz for digital terrestrial television until 2030. However, it is concerned about the early release of the 700 MHz frequencies.
The group, chaired by former European Commissioner and WTO Director General Pascal Lamy looked at future use of the UHF spectrum band between 470 to 790 MHz which is essential for the broadcast of free-to-air digital terrestrial television (DTT).
The EBU said its Members welcome the report’s recommendation that “[the] EU should adopt a common position against the co-primary allocation of the core audiovisual band (470-694 MHz) to the mobile service at WRC 2015”.
“The EBU believes safeguarding spectrum below 700MHz will enable public service broadcasters and the European audiovisual sector to continue reaching all sectors of the population, sustain broader content choice, and secure investments and innovation over the long term,” said Simon Fell, the EBU’s Head of Technology & Innovation.
Following a thorough assessment of consumer demand, network supply and Member State diversity, the report stressed that broadcasters and citizens should not be disadvantaged by the transition of DTT out of the 700 MHz band, and the costs of transition should be duly addressed.
“It is essential that broadcasters are not financially weakened by any loss of the 700MHz band. Member States must heed the report’s conclusions on compensation and transitional arrangements,” added Fell.
All costs should be offset, including investments in new and even more efficient technologies and the expense of mitigating mobile interference of DTT reception, according to the EBU.
The EBU is concerned about the recommendations that the 700 MHz band be released to other stakeholders, especially mobile phone operators, by 2020 with the flexibility of +/- 2 years.
“There is a danger that this will not give broadcasters and viewers enough time to adapt to appropriate spectrum arrangements and ensure the necessary upgrade of DTT networks and consumer equipment, especially in countries where DTT is the main TV platform,” said Fell.
The broadcasting industry argues that an early release date is likely to cause disruption to TV services in a number of Member States, especially where, owing to the lack of capacity, the transition reduces the volume and quality of content offered to viewers.
The report notes that because of the “recent assignments in the 800 MHz band, the 700 MHz band is not immediately needed for mobile services” and proposes a ‘stock take’ by 2025 to provide a factual basis for future policy decisions on spectrum allocation.
The EBU believes this should include all relevant market and technology developments as well as all relevant frequency bands for terrestrial broadcasting and mobile broadband.
In presenting the report, Lamy said that for too long, the broadband and broadcasting communities had been at loggerheads about the use of the UHF spectrum band. “There have been many different views and perspectives. On the basis of discussions with the two sectors, I have put forward a single scheme that could provide a way forward for Europe to thrive in the digital century.”
Vice President Neelie Kroes said thereport laid down a path for creating capacity for fast wireless broadband everywhere and for ensuring a stable and predictable future for terrestrial broadcasting, while allowing those Member States that want to move forward more quickly to do so. “It would also ensure sustainable co-existence, as both sectors focus increasingly on advanced media services. This is essential to secure our changing digital future and hold our own in international negotiations,” she added.
Lamy’s UHF proposals in detail
- The 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) should be repurposed for wireless broadband, but with sufficient lead time to ensure a transition path that minimises cost for spectrum users and citizens and to accommodate the diversity in penetration levels of terrestrial broadcasting within Europe. This implies a time frame of around 2020, plus or minus two years.
- Regulatory stability should be ensured for broadcasting to continue its current use of the band 470-694 MHz until 2030. This involves national, EU and international measures. In consequence, at the World Radiocommunications Conference 2015 (which will review and revise global spectrum-use rules) Europe should reject any plans for primary allocation of mobile to the 470-694 MHz band which is currently already allocated to broadcasting on a primary basis. Some flexibility could nevertheless be catered for through the development of ‘down link only’ technologies that give priority to primary broadcasting networks.
- In order to take into account the evolving change in consumer demand as well as new technologies, such as converged networks or large-scale roll out of optic fibre, a stock-taking exercise of UHF spectrum use should be performed by 2025. It would give Europe the opportunity to re-assess where we stand and avoid any freeze of regulation compared to the rapid advance in technology and consumer behaviour.