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EBU concerned at EC spectrum proposals

European public broadcasting alliance the EBU has expressed concerns as the European Commission unveils its proposals for the future of UHF spectrum. According to the EBU, these proposals place a heavy burden on broadcasters currently investing and innovating on the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) platform in UHF.

EBU Head of European Affairs Nicola Frank described moving DTT services out of the 700MHz band by 2020 as “a major challenge”, in particular for those Member States where DTT is the main platform to receive television, noting that in Europe, 250 million people receive their television services through DTT.

“Broadcasters will need to make costly changes to their infrastructure. Member states should clearly be able to provide for compensation for both consumers and broadcasters in order to cater for the investment needed to implement the change,” she stated.

In addition, the EBU suggests that by introducing a so-called ‘flexibility option’ to deploy alternative technologies in the sub-700 MHz band, the European Commission is opting for something which has not yet been validated by technical studies and for which there is no proven market demand.

Earlier, broadcasters had welcomed the ’20-25-30’ conclusions to the 2014 High Level Group of Spectrum chaired by Pascal Lamy because it set a flexible deadline for transition of DTT out of the 700 MHz band and required sub-700 MHz frequencies to continue being used for TV broadcasting until 2030, with a review planned in 2025.

However, notes the EBU, in its proposal, the European Commission has set a strict deadline for clearing the 700 MHz band from DTT by 2020, taking away the flexibility broadcasters required in some Member States.

The EBU says the Commission’s strategy also fails to mention any compensatory measures for broadcasters, who will need to overhaul infrastructure or envisage cutting away certain services. In this climate, innovation and new channels on the Digital Terrestrial Television platform will be undermined.

“While the proposal does aim to preserve the sub-700 MHz UHF for digital broadcasting, as decided by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in November 2015, the European Commission wants to introduce a ‘flexibility option’, offering other services access to these bands under certain circumstances,” it says.

The EBU shares the view in the Lamy report that the flexibility option should be carefully studied and tested beforehand and be considered only if compatible with broadcasting in the Member State where it is envisaged and clearly backed by market demand.

The European Commission UHF Spectrum Strategy, unveiled on 2 February, will now be examined separately by the European Parliament and the EU Member States and will become law once these two bodies agree on the same text. This process could last from a few months to more than one year.

The EC strategy proposes what it describes as “a balanced long-term approach” for the use of the ultra-high frequency (UHF) band. According to the proposal, more spectrum will be made available for mobile services in the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) by 2020. The EC saysthis approach will make sure that Europeans can have access to creative content on tablets and smartphones – an increasing trend – but also through classic TV services. The EC says the proposal is also in line with the most recent international agreements on the use of the UHF band including the 700 MHz band.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said: “28 different approaches to manage radio frequencies in the EU do not make economic sense in the Digital Single Market. Today we come with our first proposal on how to better coordinate spectrum in the EU. We propose a joint approach to use the 700 MHz band for mobile services. This band is the sweet spot for both wide coverage and high speeds. It will give top-quality Internet access to all Europeans, even in rural areas, and pave the way for 5G, the next generation of communication network. At the same time, we secure frequencies for the audiovisual sector and boost the development of technologies which make an efficient use of radio waves. Spectrum is a scarce resource: we need to make the best of it.”

Günther H. Oettinger, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, said: “We cannot have high quality mobile Internet for everything and for everyone everywhere unless we have modern infrastructure and modern rules. With this proposal we show that we can have both: a vibrant audiovisual sector as well as the spectrum we will need for 5G. The 700 MHz band will be ideal for new promising fields like connected driving and the Internet of Things. I want Europe to lead in 5G. That is why all Member States must act by 2020.”

The proposal comprises two major elements:

  • in the 700 MHz band: a common schedule for making it effectively available for wireless broadband use under harmonised technical conditions, and related coordination measures in support of this transition;
  • in the sub-700 MHz band: long-term priority for the distribution of audiovisual media services to the general public, along with a flexible approach for spectrum use to cater for different levels of digital terrestrial television (DTT) uptake in Member States.

According to the EC, the proposal will make it easier and will reduce costs to develop innovative devices and services across the EU: no need to switch between different bands anymore and to adapt to divergent national requirements.

Coordinated transition towards 2020

The EC proposes that the 700 MHz band should be assigned to wireless broadband by 30 June 2020 at the latest in all EU countries. This will be in line with the deployment of 5G, foreseen as from 2020. To meet this deadline, Member States will need to adopt and make public their national plans for network coverage and for releasing this band by 30 June 2017. They will need also to conclude cross-border coordination agreements by the end of 2017. Such plans will smooth the transition and ensure good network coverage that will help to bridge the digital divide and create the necessary coverage conditions for connected vehicles or remote health care.

The Commission notes that two Member States (France, Germany) have already authorised the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services. Further Member States (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, UK) have outlined plans to repurpose the 700 MHz band in the next few years.

The Commission says it counts on the swift adoption of the proposal by the European Parliament and Member States in order to ensure a predictable and timely transition.

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