EU's Kroes slams member states over 800 MHz delays

Fourteen member states of the European Union have requested to postpone the use of the 800 MHz band for wireless broadband services "due to exceptional reasons," and the European Commission said it has now "reluctantly granted" nine of these requests.

Neelie Kroes

The EU's digital commissioner, Neelie Kroes, already at war with operators over plans to abolish mobile roaming charges, is clearly unimpressed by this latest development and said it will harm the rollout of high-speed mobile broadband services across the Continent. All member states had originally agreed to a deadline of Jan. 1, 2013 to free up 800 MHz for use by mobile broadband services such as LTE.

The delay, added Kroes, provides further evidence of why radio spectrum needs to be assigned with greater coordination across the EU.

"We have agreed to temporary and limited 800 MHz derogations for nine countries," said Kroes. "This is a pragmatic and final concession. Every delay in releasing spectrum hurts our economy and frustrates citizens. That is why spectrum reform will be a centrepiece of the Commission's September proposal for a telecoms single market."

The Commission has agreed to postponements for Spain, Cyprus, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Austria, Poland, Romania and Finland. It said it refused postponements for Slovakia and Slovenia, where the delays were due to the organisation of the authorisation process and not to exceptional circumstances preventing the availability of the band.

The Commission added that Greece, Latvia and the Czech Republic require additional evaluation. Belgium and Estonia were late but have not asked for a delay, while Bulgaria has said the band will continue to be used for public security and defence purposes.

The Commission said the "digital dividend" 800 MHz frequency band has the potential to support wireless broadband throughout an entire country, including remote and rural areas. "So far, only 11 member states have announced that they have effectively allowed the use of the 800 MHz band for wireless broadband communications," the Commission added.

The Commission further noted that all member states are still obliged to ensure that their temporary continued use of the 800 MHz band, such as for broadcasting, does not hinder the development of wireless broadband in that band in neighbouring states.

This latest development on spectrum regulation comes as Kroes faces increasing opposition over her plans for a single market for telecoms, with the abolition of roaming charges a major bone of contention.

The Financial Times reported that Brussels may now be open to reworking part of the plans, although officials said the overall move to cut roaming in Europe would not be changed in the debate. Kroes has been meeting a number of telecoms executives in the past two weeks to discuss the draft proposals, the FT added.

Analyst at Bernstein also told the FT that the plan by Brussels to lower wholesale rates to bring about lower retail roaming tariffs would "hasten the decline of wireless only companies".

The analysts added that the Commission's objective to "equalise domestic mobile pricing across Europe feels very much like a race to the bottom" and reiterated its negative sector stance, the FT reported.

For more:
- see this EU statement
- see this FT article (sub. req.)
- see this separate Financial Times article (sub. req.)

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