EU with spectrum policies under its control? Not a good idea

EU with spectrum policies under its control? Not a good idea

EU with spectrum policies under its control? Not a good idea 1280 850 SOS - Save our Spectrum

What a bombshell! Just a few weeks before the European elections, the European Commission has published a new white paper entitled “How to master Europe’s digital infrastructure needs?”.

Among other things, it plans to bring spectrum policies, which have so far been primarily national, completely under the curatorship of the EU.

So far, the CEPT has been important

Until now, spectrum policy, spectrum allocation and spectrum planning have been the original responsibility of the member states. There is one exception to this: when it comes to cross-border issues, the CEPT (Conférence Européenne des Administrations des Postes et des Télécommunications) is responsible in Europe and the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) is responsible internationally.

Every four years, the ITU organizes so-called World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC), most recently in November and December 2023 in Dubai. Here, almost 200 countries negotiate the allocation of frequencies that do not stop at national borders. This is intended to enable interference-free national usage rules. This works extremely well, even in times of war.

All countries are represented individually at these WRC. The EU only observes. Although the EU countries had agreed on common lines in advance, states still have the option of agreeing their own deals. Spain and Italy, for example, recently succeeded in protecting their TV UHF band from any interference from commercial mobile communications.

This kind of thing bothers the EU. That is why Brussels is now striking back. If the plans in the White Paper become reality, national parliaments would no longer have much say in frequency issues.

Needs of the mobile communications industry

In many areas, such as standardization or consumer rights, uniform European rules are to be welcomed. Nobody should want to give up the valuable achievements of the single market – we can see from the UK where this leads. At the same time, the EU Commission’s White Paper is not convincing. It does not appear balanced and fair. It is soaked in the needs of the mobile communications industry.

This can be seen, for example, in the fact that it talks about “low profitability”, while the term “culture” does not appear even once. The White Paper even quotes mobile operators. It adopts their arguments, for example when it states on page 14 that “there are no barriers to the cross-border provision of networks and services other than the negative net efficiencies and synergies resulting from the fragmented regulatory environment.”

It then states: “However, as long as the benefits of cross-border consolidation are limited by the persistence of national regulatory frameworks and the absence of a true internal market, it cannot in itself overcome the above-mentioned disadvantages.”

Interests of mobile phone users

The White Paper thus defines the internal market primarily in terms of the needs of commercial mobile communications. The fact that there must also be a single market for “Program Making and Special Events” (PMSE), i.e. wireless microphones, in-ear systems, etc., is ignored. Spectrum policy is always a balancing act between different stakeholders, their interests and challenges. There is no serious indication of such a balancing act in the paper and there is therefore concern that the EU only wants to acquire these competencies in order to strengthen mobile communications.

Nevertheless, the EU’s plans would be no small change; they would mean a system change and permanently weaken the CEPT. That would suit the EU just fine. In addition to the 27 EU member states, the CEPT also includes other countries that are likely to be disadvantaged (Russia) or punished for Brexit (UK). If everything were to be decided at EU level in future, non-EU countries would no longer be able to form meaningful majority alliances. In effect, Brussels would decide where things go, from Dublin to Moscow.

Uniformity instead of flexibility

Now you might object: This is exactly what exists in the USA. There, the independent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decides what applies. In Europe, there are countless authorities. Manufacturers and cross-border users of PMSE would probably welcome a uniform European regulation.

But at the same time, these groups could be the big losers. This is because the White Paper appears to have been written by lobbyists from the telecommunications industry, who blame all their home-made problems on the existence of national regulatory projects.

If there are now calls for more internal market, it is also worth remembering the last World Radiocommunication Conference, when the telecommunications companies were still upholding the mantra of “flexibility” in order to access the TV UHF band between 470 and 694 (or 698) MHz in individual countries such as Finland. This path was basically closed to them because Europe was on the side of the common good (media and culture) and against commerce. It is now clear that those who were still singing the praises of “flexibility” in December have also been lobbying the EU Commission to campaign against flexibility and in favor of uniformity.

Model USA?

And as far as the FCC is concerned, the importance of PMSE is aptly recognized there. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in February 2024: “Unless you’re in video and audio production, you probably haven’t thought much about wireless microphones. But they’re everywhere. Let’s start with last weekend’s Superbowl.

Wireless microphones were needed for commentary on and off the field, as well as for the halftime show. You can find them in big Broadway productions and in small theaters. They are found on movie sets everywhere.

And they are often used in houses of worship, stadiums and schools. These ubiquitous devices operate in a mix of licensed and unlicensed frequency bands such as the 600 MHz and 900 MHz bands, as well as the 1.4 GHz and 7 GHz bands. These frequencies are shared with a range of other wireless services, including broadcasting, aviation, WiFi and other unlicensed technologies. Ensuring that all these services can operate simultaneously and without interference is a major task.”

Such a statement has not yet been heard from the EU Commission President, and such clarity is also missing from the White Paper.

Cold expropriation of national competencies

Despite all the sympathy for the EU and certain harmonizations – for example with satellites – the line must be drawn where national media legislation is threatened. After all, the broadcasting exception will continue to exist in the internal market process. In Germany, the 16 federal states also have a say. The EU’s plans would amount to a cold expropriation of state competencies.

Coordination between the levels and finding compromises would become even more difficult. The principle of subsidiarity would be trampled underfoot. The problems of mobile communications are not solved with new legislation, but with sustainable and better business models.

An EU-wide frequency regulation, which also determines the specific uses, would mean that artists and event productions would have to turn to a super authority in Brussels (or wherever). Until now, the national authorities have been the first point of contact. The advantages are obvious: A Pole can contact his Polish authority in Polish; a Portuguese person can do so in Portuguese.

In addition, the authorities know exactly what the situation is like in their regions – in Germany, the Federal Network Agency even has regional offices for this purpose. Should this citizen-oriented service be ended? Is the end of sensible national regulations imminent?

PMSE users need more lobbying power

However, nothing will change that quickly. First of all, Europe will elect a new parliament at the beginning of June 2024. This will result in a new Commission. Whether and how this Commission will pursue the latest proposals remains to be seen. It is likely, however, because no European politician is opposed to – supposedly – strengthening the internal market. If the needs and concerns of the media and culture were clearly recognized in the White Paper, there might be less nervousness. Unfortunately, however, it is more about the financial consolidation of the mobile communications industry.

Should a decision be made in Brussels one day on frequency usage, it is clear what lobbying power will be there to get the best for itself. It is also clear that the many millions of PMSE users have no chance of being sufficiently heard. Competence decisions are therefore also political decisions. The EU must be very careful not to lose the artists, musicians, but also the television viewers and all concertgoers or festival-goers as supporters. Politics must remain close to the people and not be made for international corporations.


Jochen Zenthöfer is spokesperson for the European initiative “SOS – Save Our Spectrum” based in Luxembourg. The group campaigns for sufficient interference-free frequencies for users and manufacturers of PMSE.

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