Spain is claiming the refund of €260 million in state DTT subsidies it has to pay back following the EC ruling them illegal, may leave 1.2 million people in the country with no DTT.
The Government has warned that the return of those funds would trigger off the closure of “many providers” and meaning breaks in DTT transmission in remote areas preventing 1.2 million inhabitants (2.5 per cent of the population) from exercising their fundamental right to information.” In addition, the closure of many private and public companies would mean the loss of 5,000 jobs and the impossibility of releasing the so-called digital dividend in those isolated areas, adding up to an annual cost of €700 million.
The European Luxembourg Court has rejected all these pleadings on the grounds that they are only “speculation” and has urged the Spanish Government to pay the funds back. In June, the EC gave Spain a four month-period to pay back €260 million that the Spanish Government approved in its financial aid scheme to deploy DTT.
The EC has taken the decision on the grounds that technology neutrality was not respected to the benefit of DTT networks (mainly Abertis) and the detriment of satellite distribution (Astra). The most affected Spanish regions by the EC’s decision are Catalonia, which will have to pay back €52 million, followed by Castilla-Leon with €38 million and Aragon with €20 million.
In 2005, Spain decided to subsidise €260 million for the transition to DTT in remote areas of Spain, covering around 2.5 per cent of the population, without notifying it to the EC and with only terrestrial operators benefiting from the subsidies. Luxembourg’s SES-ASTRA took the case to the EC on the grounds that the measure was discriminatory. In 2010, the EC opened an inquiry into the public financing of the DTT infrastructure.
The EC is also scrutinising two other digitisation cases in Spain. One, in the Region of Castilla La Mancha with allegations of technological discrimination and even unfair competition practices amongst Regional and local terrestrial platform operators. The other case is about financial aid granted to broadcasters for the change of bandwidth.