Friday

19th Jan 2018

Focus

EU rules on 700 MHz: technical issue or power grab?

  • With the increasing popularity of mobile broadband services, there is a sense that more frequencies should be made available for those services. But who should coordinate that? (Photo: Nicolas Nova)

The European Commission is trying to convince EU countries that they should commit to some coordination in the assignment of a specific set of radio frequencies, after it failed to garner support for more broad, common rules.

While this week's proposal on the coordination of the 700 megahertz (MHz) band may sound very technical – and the details of the plan are – it deals in essence with the question of how much power 'Brussels' should have.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Oettinger: "this is not about removing competences [powers] from member states" (Photo: European Commission)

The radio frequencies, or spectrum, are a finite resource. With the increasing popularity of mobile broadband services, there is a sense that more frequencies should be made available for those services.

The commission's plan, published on Tuesday (2 February), aims to free up space in the 694 MHz to 790 MHz range, by moving the digital television services that mostly occupy those frequencies now to a lower band (470-694 MHz, to be exact).

According to the digital commissioner, vice-president Andrus Ansip, the migration “is needed to cope with rising demand in Europe for audiovisual content and services over wireless networks, which is driven mainly by video consumption on the move”, he wrote in his blog.

The commission thinks that member states should agree to a 30 June 2020 deadline by which the move is done, so that the EU is ready for the deployment of 5G, the expected faster fifth generation of mobile networks.

It proposes that EU states adopt and publish their national plans for the distribution of the band – usually done through auction – by 30 June 2017.

This in itself is not too controversial.

But there are some worries that the proposal is only the beginning of the commission grabbing more power on the spectrum, which to many member states is a revenue source over which they want to retain complete control.

The commission knows this, judging by a speech given by digital commissioner Guenther Oettinger (Ansip's deputy) on Wednesday.

“I want to be absolutely clear however that this is not about removing competences [powers] from member states,” Oettinger said at an event in Brussels.

“Revenues from auctions should remain exclusively with them. It's about working together towards achieving common goals and addressing shared problems such as increased connectivity through mobile coverage and through more investments,” the German commissioner added.

But Ansip said in his blog post that the 700 MHz proposal is “the first step towards further and better coordination of spectrum” - something which member states previously opposed.

Already in 2013 did the European Commission try to create more EU coordination on spectrum-related issues through the Telecom Single Market Package.

The package, proposed under Ansip and Oettinger's predecessor Neelie Kroes, suggested that the commission should have the power “to harmonise spectrum availability, the timing of assignments and the duration of rights of use for spectrum”.

But when the package, which also included new rules on network neutrality and roaming surcharges, reached the negotiations phase with national governments and the European Parliament, it was clear that the former would not agree to the spectrum part.

A deal was reached just before the end of the Latvian presidency of the EU, but without a word on spectrum.

“The Telecom Single Market was more about regulatory rules governing spectrum in general,” a commission source told journalists at a technical briefing in Brussels.

“The main difference is that this is a much more targeted decision,” she said.

The contact added that this specific decision will be supported by the national governments.

“There is broad agreement amongst member states that agreeing on a common deadline to release bands can be beneficial,” she added.

And on content, there is not that much opposition to be expected, a senior diplomat from one of the member states told EUobserver.

“I do think there will be a lot of questions – we certainly have them – whether we need specific legislation for this. Why not have an implementing act on the basis of existing legislation?” he said.

Implementing acts are a mostly procedural decision-making tool of the commission, in which the member states and European Parliament have a smaller role. For this proposal, the commission needs both institutions to actively discuss and adopt it, and most likely will need to mediate between the two on changes each wants.

“Our concern is that with this proposal the commission is trying to create a precedent and that it's trying to grab some power,” the diplomat noted, adding that his country may seek some reassurance from the commission that this is not the case, before agreeing to the plan.

Austrian member of the European Parliament Michel Reimon, of the Greens group, told this website in a written response that he thinks "harmonisation is a process that will move forward at some point, it is only a matter of when, not if".

"The proposal is less overarching and by being targeted at 700Mhz gives a possible blueprint for a enhanced coordination in the future while also allowing different approaches to be discussed for other situations," said Reimon, who was involved in the negotiations on the Telecom Single Market package last year.

Does the member state diplomat fear that the commission is now trying to achieve its 2013 goals by breaking the original plan up and having it adopted in separate stages?

“Our own thoughts are not far away from that,” the diplomat said.

The commission has already announced in its digital single market strategy paper last year that it will present a plan “for an ambitious overhaul of the telecoms regulatory framework”, that will include creating a “consistent single market approach to spectrum policy and management”.

That plan will be presented before the end of the year.

EU agrees deadline for 5G internet plan

National governments agreed to free up bandwidth to be dedicated to mobile internet by 2020, although they insisted on a possible two-year extension.

EU and telecoms firms target 5G benefits

As connecting everyday items to the internet is set to become a normality, the EU Commission is trying to develop a 5G network to cope with the extra demands.

Opinion

Enough with EU's empty words on 5G

With its current policies on telecoms, the EU has set the stage for USA and Asia and handed them the trophy without even attempting to win it ourselves.

Uber is a transport service, EU court rules

Ruling means that national governments have the right to demand that Uber drivers request the same permits and authorisations required of taxi drivers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems
  2. UK loses EU satellite centre to Spain
  3. Pay into EU budget for market access, Macron tells May
  4. Ethiopian regime to get EU migrants' names
  5. EU to lend Greece up to €7bn more next week
  6. Nato prepares to take in Macedonia
  7. Taking full benefit of supercomputers in Europe
  8. Spitzenkandidat system 'difficult to get rid of', hopes lead MEP

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap