2023, The Year of Living Dangerously for European culture?

2023, The Year of Living Dangerously for European culture?

2023, The Year of Living Dangerously for European culture? 1920 1188 SOS - Save our Spectrum

The upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) will turn 2023 into a ‘year of reckoning’ for European culture. As a matter of fact, delegates scheduled to flock into Abu Dhabi next November to agree ways and means to proceed with optimal allocation of this rare resource which the radioelectric spectrum is will hold in their hands no less than the whole fate of artistic creation: the UHF 470-694 MHz is indeed critical for music production and distribution.

A cradle of 18th century Enlightenment, France has made culture a priority all along. For French governments, culture is not limited to past glory: accordingly, they all make it a point to provide creators with all what they need for fruitful inspiration and untrammeled communion with their audiences. As it happens, since culture is both a mirror and a crucible for prevailing ways of life, more and more sophisticated technology is to be found in the various toolboxes supplied. In particular, following the amazing progress of wireless communication, live concerts – the youth’ preferred way to experience music – are possible only once stable, interference-free frequencies have been secured.

Véronique Cayla, then CEO, ARTE-France, thus painted the challenge: “Non-linear TV will fragment usage and make individuals feel isolated. However, people cannot do without collective experiences… As a consequence, the more we go non-linear, the more we will need to close the loop with collective events.” Since ARTE’s agenda was “to gather audiences around great experiences likely to generate common emotions”, Mrs Cayla went on to say that “culture is a pleasure enjoyed through solidarity, a pleasure to be shared with the multitude… We want culture to provide a forum for being together and for reconciling all walks of life: pass the baton of individual experience, share feelings, meet up with others.”

Nobody will doubt that France gets the stakes of WRC-23 right. Suffice it to point to its unqualified, unwavering support to the status quo, in a silent tribute paid to the joint and productive optimization so far of the usage of the UHF 470-694 MHz bandwidth. However, this extremely coveted fraction of the spectrum is a battleground for claims from several stakeholders. If room was made in there for new entrants, a fatal blow would be dealt to our culture, either by way of creative industries conceding again in the wake of the two ‘surrenders’ generated by the so-called ‘digital dividends’, or by way of mobile operators co-managing this band, a fragile option given that these two sectors operate along vastly different business models.

To confront this existential threat successfully, everyone in Europe who cares about culture and creativity should close ranks. Alas, the first step has yet to be taken in this direction. For instance, Germany, whose Parliament had sent early warnings regarding the devastating consequences of culture possibly losing ground again in this fight, has yet to see the Executive branch pay other than lip-service to this danger and rally to the French position. Since the EU is currently experiencing calls for ‘disunion’ on more than one front, it is not far-fetched to be in doubt about the ability of the EU to avoid a meltdown in Abu Dhabi, a development that would fly in the face of everything the European construct has been standing for since its beginnings in the late 1950s.

A New Year being propitious for bold resolutions, we should wish for France’s partners to bravely confront the pressures they are exposed to and to take charge in fighting off the risk of seeing European culture and its world impact die out. Let us try and strengthen the lifeline that, in the form of proper spectrum being available, has kept music creation living and kicking and thriving for the benefit of a wide variety of audiences everywhere, by allowing them to experience artistic expression in a full ‘solidarity’ context. Riding straight on the coattails of multiple lockdowns due to the pandemic, such a failure would prove lethal to the impact of European culture across the world. Let us wish that WRC-23 delegates, in their wisdom, will unanimously support the status quo success story with no time limit.

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