30 April 2010 – DRAFT RSPG OPINION ON THE RADIO SPECTRUM POLICY PROGRAMME – AER POSITION
The Association of European Radios (AER) is a Europe-wide trade body representing the interests of over 4,500 commercially-funded radio stations across the EU27 and in Switzerland.
AER’s main objective is to develop and improve the most suitable framework for private commercial radio activity. AER constantly follows EU actions in the fields of media, telecommunications and private radio transmission, in order to contribute, enrich and develop the radio sector.
AER therefore welcomes the opportunity to comment on the draft Opinion of the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) on the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP).
AER would first like to recall certain obvious, but often forgotten key facts: commercially-funded radios constitute a unique network of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), contributing to cultural diversity, media pluralism, access to creativity, social inclusion. They offer free-to-air services of general interest. Indeed:
– they evolve in highly competitive environments
– their programmes encompass, broadly speaking, all possible formats, from debates to music-only
– as for the music broadcast, within one market, as soon as there is demand expressed, it has to be fulfilled; so, most of the musical expressions are represented
– most of them are non-politically affiliated, and certainly keep the freedom to express their opinion
– their audiences are mostly local and regional, sometimes national
– during natural, major or minor disaster, radio is one of the first tool to inform the public
– they strive to develop on all possible platforms
Furthermore, although radio might not evoke spontaneously the most modern medium, it has, for decades, been granted with all its attributes: ubiquitous, mobile, simple-to-use and free-to-air. This also makes radio the most intimate medium: the features mentioned above enable our audience to cultivate a personal relationship with our programmes, our DJs, our hosts, and our brands. Our listeners thereby access programming they enjoy, and useful information . Radio plays a fundamental role in today’s society: it is often quoted as the most trusted medium by citizens and is entrusted with many public interest obligations. Radio therefore needs exclusive access to spectrum, managed by EU Member States.
Amongst the issues raised by the RSPG in its public consultation based on its draft Opinion on the RSPP, AER feels that the most important points where it should voice its concerns and observation on are the following ones (following the order set by the RPSG’s draft opinion):
First, it is mentioned in this draft Opinion that “the forthcoming policy programme covers the period from 2010 until 2015, however given the nature of the spectrum policy development, the RSPP shall reflect a long term and forward-looking approach and envisage perspectives beyond 2015 as well”
While AER welcomes this forward-looking approach, it would like to recall that, in most of Europe, currently and for the foreseeable future, there is only one viable business model: free-to-air FM broadcasting on Band II. European radios can only broadcast programmes free of charge to millions of European citizens, thanks to the revenues they collect by means of advertising. These revenues are decreasing all through Europe due to two factors: the shift towards internet-based advertising, and the recent financial crisis. For 2009, radio advertising market shares have decreased all across Europe compared to 2008 .
However, across the EU, plans to migrate from this satisfying analogue technology to digital technology are being actively discussed and tested. Any shift towards digital radio broadcasting entails very long-lasting and burdensome investments. Nevertheless, some individual nations may wish to proceed with a move to greater digital broadcasting at a faster rate, as there will be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
So any shift towards digital radio broadcasting will most likely require a very long process. Decision on the adequate time-frame should be left to each national industry: as a matter of principle, transition to any improved digital broadcasting system should benefit from a long time-frame, unless there is industry agreement to move at a faster rate.
As mentioned, on-air commercially-funded digital radio has not yet achieved widespread take up across European territories. The same is true for internet-based radio economically sustainable radio. These two means of transmission will be part of the patchwork of transmission techniques for commercially-funded radios in the future, but it is hard to foresee when . So no universal switch-off date for analogue broadcasting services should be envisaged at EU level and decision on standards to be used for digital radio broadcasting should be left to the industry on a country-by-country basis.
Following the division set by the RSPG draft Opinion on the RSPP, there are other essential points AER would like to underline within this text’s main parts:
I. Contribution to the EU2020 vision
AER looks forward to the EU’s forthcoming Digital Agenda . AER does not challenge the important role of the ICT industry in global EU recovery, nor does it challenge the importance of internet broadband’s roll-out, also for radio.
However, it is worth underlining that, as mentioned previously, AER Members are SMEs, providing useful economic and social services. Besides, radio’s audience is, first and foremost, local or regional. Commercially-funded radios already reach and ensure that underserved areas and segments of the population can make use of their services. It has done so efficiently through analogue broadcasting for decades, in a ubiquitous, mobile, simple-to-use and free-to-air manner. These services are essential not only for social inclusion, but also for cultural diversity, media pluralism, access to creativity. It is still unsure how a one-to-one system (via the internet) can efficiently replace a one-to-many system (via broadcasting).
Therefore, radios’ activities still require use of spectrum, as a primary user. As mentioned earlier, in most of Europe, currently and for the foreseeable future, there is only one viable business model: free-to-air FM broadcasting on Band II. Thus, Band II is the frequency range between 87,5-108 MHz and only represents 20,5 MHz. Across Europe, nearly every single frequency is used in this bandwidth. Thanks to the broad receiver penetration and the very high usage by the listeners this small bandwidth is very efficiently used . Radio’s plans to broadcast digitally could use Band III (174-230 MHz), L-Band (1452-1492 MHz) and / or Band II, depending on the EU Member States .
Moreover, and as most of them are SMEs, commercially-funded radios are in no position to compete for access to spectrum with other market players . So, now and for a foreseeable future, commercially-funded radios need guaranteed access to spectrum, in all bands described above: regulation must be tailored to local needs in order to allow the best possible development of radio. In these bands, market-based approaches to spectrum management (such as service neutrality or secondary trading) should not be enforced.
Finally, and considering other parts of the spectrum: no further actions regarding the 800 MHz Band seem necessary at EU-level. The European Commission has sent a Recommendation to the EU Member States . They have to decide about the appropriate timeline and management of the 800 MHz Band. In any case, the possible new usage of the 800 MHz Band should not affect spectrum users in any other bands than the 800 MHz Band.
II. Spectrum governance in the EU
AER welcomes the RSPG’s comprehensive approach to spectrum, and its will to study the situation of spectrum usage by radios in the EU . AER would thereby like to recall its availability for any further information on this issue.
AER also welcomes RSPG’s acknowledgement that “spectrum is a national resource” . When considering radio, AER would like to highlight that, as mentioned, audience is, first and foremost, local or regional. Moreover, spectrum is currently efficiently managed by European States and this should remain the case: national radio frequency landscapes and national radio broadcasting markets are different, with divergent plans for digitization, diverse social, cultural and historical characteristics and with distinct market structures and needs. It is therefore very difficult to envisage seamless services across borders in the case of commercially-funded radios. Consequently, enhanced coordination at EU level of spectrum management of bands used by radios does not seem necessary, or appropriate. From this perspective, AER warmly welcomes the RSPG’s will to consider “all sectoral interests” : radio’s specificities are to be dealt with at national level.
AER would like to encourage the RSPG in its will to examine further the issue of interference, and potential means to avoid this devastating phenomenon: digital transmissions are simply cut in case of interference.
III. External relations
European States already coordinate their views through ITU or CEPT. The existing coordination is seen as appropriate for the preservation of commercially-funded radio services across Europe.
However, if further EU coordination is required within ITU or CEPT, AER would like to recall that the following international agreements are adequate for the development of radio services and should therefore not be modified, at least for the parts alluding to radio:
– GE84 agreement
– MA02 agreement
– GE06 agreement
To conclude with, one should keep in mind that, in order to maintain a vibrant radio broadcasting sector:
– it must be provided that European States can allocate spectrum exclusively or with priority to broadcasting, and, especially to commercially-funded radio broadcasting; harmonized approaches are not the appropriate answer: there is no one-size-fits-all solution. European States should retain the freedom to assign frequencies to radio broadcasters through individual licences;
– service neutrality should not be applied in the bands used by broadcasters; secondary trading should only be contemplated if there is no change of use of the traded frequencies, i.e., frequencies used for broadcasting shall still be used for broadcasting frequencies if they are traded
– no universal switch-off date for analogue radio services should be envisaged at EU level and decision on standards to be used for digital broadcasting of radio should be left to the industry on a country-by-country basis
– Any shift towards digital broadcasting of radio will most likely require a long process. Decision on the adequate time-frame should be left to each national industry: as a matter of principle, transition to any improved digital broadcasting system should benefit from a long time-frame, unless there is industry agreement to move at a faster rate
AER remains available to explain this position in further details, should this be helpful to the RSPG.
Contact details: Frederik Stucki
AER Secretary General
76, av. d’Auderghem,
Tel: +32 2 736 9131
Fax: +32 2 732 8990