On 20 Sept. 2010, the European Commission published three measures to support the stated policy of increasing access to high speed broadband throughout the European Union. This included the proposal for the first EU-wide Radio Spectrum Policy Programme for approval by the European Parliament.
Whilst previous Commission initiatives (besides the general provisions of the Authorisation Directive) have focused on harmonising the technical conditions for spectrum use, the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme is the first move by the Commission to influence how and particularly when, Member States award valuable spectrum for wireless and mobile broadband.
Wireless broadband will be important in relation to the Commission’s Digital Agenda targets; namely that all Europeans should have access to broadband by 2013 and with speeds of at least 30 Mbps by 2020. The Commission can only achieve this goal as fast as the slowest Member State. Operators need to be able to get access to the bands harmonised by earlier decisions; bands, which will typically be used for mobile broadband. At the same time, regulators need to consider whether simply licensing this spectrum will allow the market to achieve the Commission’s broadband policy or whether coverage obligations may be necessary.
The Radio Spectrum Policy Programme proposal pushes those Member States who have not yet awarded the 2.6GHz band, 3.4-3.8GHz or any re-farmed spectrum available in the 900/1800Mhz bands to license them. A deadline of 1 Jan. 2012 to award this spectrum is proposed and this might bite, for example, for Ireland, Greece and the Czech Republic in relation to the 2.6GHz band.
The use of spectrum for high speed broadband is also supported by the proposal that operators should have access to larger contiguous blocks (at least 10MHz) in order to enable the provision of higher download and upload speeds.
The much-coveted digital dividend spectrum in the 800MHz band should be made available by 2013 according to the harmonised conditions previously agreed in the EC’s 800MHz Decision although this may slip to 2015 in those countries where the digital switchover is being delayed e.g. Poland.
The focus of 800MHz should be on achieving broadband access in rural areas and there is a suggestion that the Commission will develop guidelines for the award, including guidelines on coverage obligations.
It will be interesting to see how the Commission will achieve consensus on such a set of guidelines, seeing how different, for example, the coverage obligations proposed by the Swedish regulator for their 800MHz award are, to ones imposed by the German regulator for its 800MHz licences awarded earlier this year.