France’s 700 MHz auction set for 2015

French President François Hollande has announced that the process of auctioning frequencies in the 700 MHz band for use by telcos will get under way in 2015. Any resultant frequency auction could help rebalance the public accounts. An auction of frequencies in the 800 MHz band in 2011 saw the Government earn €2.6 billion.

He revealed the initiative in a speech on public service broadcasting at broadcast regulator the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel. Participating in a CSA seminar on broadcasting and economic issues, President Hollande said that the Autorité de Régulation des Communications Électroniques et des Postes (ARCEP) the independent agency in charge of regulating telecommunications in France, would “initiate the process for the allocation of frequencies next year,” describing the timing as “imperative”.

In 2013, ARCEP warned that the reallocation of the 700 MHz band for telecoms use was a major challenge in terms of increasing access to mobile broadband and innovation. These frequencies are currently reserved exclusively for DTT, but should be more effectively allocated for wider communications usage, as requested by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and a European report issued in September by Pascal Lamy.

Concerned at the impact of such changes, a number of DTT broadcasters in September 2014 wrote to Prime Minister Manuel Valls seeking guarantees in terms of standard broadcast formats. The Government suggests the reallocation of frequencies will begin in 2017 and be completed in 2019.

Seeking to reassure broadcasters, President Hollande said that France needed an audiovisual sector that could broadly, effectively and securely, broadcast. “This is the objective of transferring the 700 MHz band to the telecom sector. The State will ensure that the available resource is guaranteed for Broadcast,” he stated.

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