European Commission wants airwaves freed-up by move to digital TV to work for swift economic recovery

Date: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 19:08

As digital TV replaces our old analogue TV, four-fifths of the airwaves that used to carry TV broadcasts to our homes will be freed up. This means that they can be used for new, innovative services that use radio spectrum, from wireless internet and more advanced mobile phones to new interactive and high-definition TV channels

European Commission wants airwaves freed-up by move to digital TV to work for swift economic recovery Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media

Remote regions could be big winners from this as wireless broadband could use the new spectrum to deliver high-speed internet to areas not yet reached by landlines. The Commission set out plans for a coordinated distribution of spectrum that encourages investment and competition in these potential new services. If the allocation of the newly freed airwaves – the "digital dividend" – to new services is coordinated across Europe it could give the economy a boost of €20 to €50 billion. The plan for the realisation of the digital dividend's full potential involves the European Parliament and EU countries, reflecting the major part they have to play.
"The digital dividend is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make 'broadband for all' a reality all over Europe and boost some of the most innovative sectors of our economy. Europe will only make the most of the digital dividend if we work together on a common plan. The Commission cooperated closely with EU countries, the European Parliament, industry and consumers' representatives to prepare such a plan," said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "I call on EU countries to speed up the move to digital TV and to make it happen by 1 January 2012. I also urge national authorities to use the digital dividend in a pro-competitive way to open up the market for new operators and new services, maximising the impact on the economy. Only this will ensure the digital dividend is used to bring wireless broadband to parts of the EU where high-speed internet cannot be provided efficiently by other technologies."
The digital dividend proposals adopted by the Commission ask EU Member States to speed up the switch-off of analogue TV and to complete it by 1 January 2012. Five countries (Finland, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Sweden) and the US have already shown that analogue switch-off can be done quickly (IP/09/266).
The proposals also seek to realise the potential €20 to 50 billion economic impact of effective European coordination of the digital dividend (over 15 years compared to EU countries acting alone). To do this, they set out how one part of the freed-up spectrum, namely the 790-862 MHz sub-band (the spectrum that travels far and through buildings), can be set aside to support the emergence of new wireless services (such as 3G and 4G mobile phone services (IP/09/1238) that allow video streaming, full web browsing and fast downloads on a mobile handset. This will contribute to achieving the target of high-speed broadband coverage of 100% of the EU population by the end of 2013 (IP/08/1771, MEMO/08/735).
To maximise the impact of these moves, the Commission said it would harmonise the technical conditions for using the 790-862 MHz sub-band so that the Single Market is not fragmented when EU countries open the sub-band for new services in their country. Service providers and makers of devices and applications can then do business across borders, while consumers will find it easier to use 'roaming' services when they travel. A similar approach laid the ground for the emergence of GSM mobile phones in the 1990s.
The Commission also proposed to address, with the European Parliament and the Council, strategic objectives like the pace of opening the digital dividend to uses other than high-power broadcasting, agreeing a common European position in negotiations with neighbouring countries on the digital dividend spectrum, and the possibility to agree future EU targets for using more efficient technologies in the digital dividend
In the first half of 2010, the Commission will seek the European Parliament's and Council's support on the roadmap, and further debate with existing and potential users of the spectrum on longer term issues before finalising proposals.

In 2007, the Commission proposed to make it easier for mobile operators in Europe to offer and develop innovative wireless technologies (IP/07/1170). This followed its Communication on speeding up the digital switchover identifying the digital dividend as a priority for spectrum policy. On 9 July 2009, Commissioner Reding said she would make proposals on the use of the digital dividend under the outgoing Commission (SPEECH/ 09/336).
The US switched off analogue TV on 12 June 2009. Japan's switch-off is planned for July 2011, South Korea for end 2012, Australia for 2013, India and Russia for 2015.

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