09 April 2010 – RADIO SPECTRUM POLICY PROGRAMME – AER INPUTS
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 contribute to the first EU multi-annual Radio Spectrum Policy Programme.
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 European Commission’s public consultation on the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, AER feels that the most important points where it should voice its concerns and observation on are the following ones – indicated in italics:
a. Economic recovery and growth
The potential for contributing to economic recovery, growth, jobs and EU competitiveness is large, given the leading role of ICT as a whole, and of wireless applications in particular. The economic value of services derived from radio services is estimated at around 2.5% of aggregate EU GDP and spending on mobile networks in the coming years is expected to largely outpace the average growth of the telecom equipment manufacturing sector.
Using spectrum to assist in achieving universal broadband access for citizens and business (in particular SMEs) will also boost productivity and stimulate economic growth. The European Council and the European Parliament have stressed the importance of fast and affordable broadband communications for all citizens.
1) Against this background, has a sufficient amount of spectrum been allocated for the rollout of broadband services under technology and services neutral conditions in order to achieve EU’s targets in terms of coverage and speed? Regarding already allocated spectrum, should a minimum amount of spectrum be actually assigned by a specific date?
It is very difficult for AER to reply to the question as formulated. As for coverage, satellite-based transmission seems to be a technology ready-to-be-used. As for speed, one can only underline the great abilities of fibre networks.
AER does not challenge the important role of the ICT industry in global EU recovery, nor does it challenge the importance of broadband roll-out, also for radio. However, it is worth underlining that, as mentioned previously, AER Members are SMEs, providing useful economic and social services, and their activities require use of spectrum. Commercially-funded radios are in no position to compete for access to spectrum with other market players. So, market-based approaches to spectrum (such as service neutrality or secondary trading) should not be enforced in bands where commercially-funded radios broadcast or may broadcast . For further details, please see answers under part f.
2) Under what conditions should spectrum be assigned to facilitate innovation in equipment and services by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)?
As a reminder, radio is broadcast all through Europe on Band II (87.5-108 MHz), Long waves (148.5-283.5 kHz) and Medium waves (520-1610 kHz). 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. Band II is and will remain for the next years the main band used by radios. For Band II, the GE84 plan is currently widely applied and is adequate for the current and foreseeable future.
Going on with securing access to spectrum in Band III and L-Band for digital radio is still paramount for its development on-air. This access was secured by EU Member States in international fora, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT), and should be respected (with inter alia the MA02 and GE06 plans). Although, for the European Commission, development of wireless broadband appears to be one of the essential elements to ensure a knowledge-based economy, including in rural areas, on-air radio is still one of the most used means of social inclusion.
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.
3) How and to what extent can the provision of seamless services across borders be supported by a coherent approach in spectrum management?
Radio’s 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.
4) While maintaining a large amount of spectrum for the continued development of high quality pluralist broadcasting, should Europe take further action to ensure the complete transition to low/medium power use of the 790-862 MHz band and the provision of wireless broadband in order to ensure the widest possible coverage for EU citizens and business? Should coverage obligations be attached to these spectrum usage rights?
As mentioned for the previous questions, in order to continue developing high quality pluralist broadcasting, radios should continue having guaranteed access to spectrum: first on Band II, then on Band III and L-Band. This guaranteed access is already burdened with coverage obligations. As for spectrum used for broadband deployment, it seems understood that the frequencies alluded to were claimed to be used to serve rural areas. It would thereby be sensible that coverage obligations are attached to potential usage rights, also in the case of broadband. This should not lead to a second digital divide, due to the lack of quality and speed in the broadband services deployed (as for technologies, please see answer to question 1).
No further actions regarding the 800 MHz Band seem necessary at EU-level. The European Commission has sent its 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. AER therefore urges the European Commission to carefully weigh all potential consequences before suggesting modifications of internationally agreed spectrum allocations.
b. Social inclusion, Services for citizens
In addition to providing a necessary backbone for economic development, wireless communications play an important role in achieving ubiquitous access and bridging the digital divide. They may bring e-health, e-learning, e-government and other public services into the remotest parts of Europe, support high-quality and varied media, and are essential to civil safety and protection.
5) How can the EU ensure that broadband services effectively contribute to bridging the digital divide, for example by reaching previously underserved areas and segments of the population? How do wired, terrestrial wireless and satellite systems best contribute to this aim?
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).
6) How can the EU ensure that European citizens get advanced, easy and affordable access to a wide choice of high-quality broadcasting content taking into account innovative technologies and platforms as well as incentives for investment? How do the various types of wired, terrestrial wireless and satellite systems and networks best contribute to this aim?
If one takes the perspective of radio, European citizens already have easy and free access to a wide choice of high-quality broadcasting content. They have had so for decades with an analogue technology. Across the EU, plans to migrate from this satisfying analogue technology to digital technology are being actively discussed and tested.
AER would like to recall that 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 by 10 to 30% all across Europe compared to 2008 .
However, 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. In this case, the financial burden cannot be left to the broadcasting companies.
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.
e. Effective coordination at international level and negotiations with third countries
Negotiations in the World Radio Conference (WRC) will require positions coordinated at EU level to defend EU interests where there is an EU policy or competence at stake, or to promote the interests of the Member States themselves. The way in which third countries use their spectrum can heavily impact on the rollout of new services in the whole or part of the EU, and thus affect significantly the internal market and the attainment of EU economic development goals.
13) How can EU policy priorities best be defended throughout the negotiations at WRCs to guarantee effective solutions, and how is the EU position to be expressed to EU negotiating partners?
14) How could the EU contribute and support Member States in improving coordination of the use of the digital dividend and other important spectrum bands with non EU neighbouring countries?
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
f. Refarming and competition
The introduction of flexibility in the use of spectrum through the technology and service neutrality principles in the regulatory framework on electronic communications as well as the upcoming availability of the 800 MHz band have made competition safeguards necessary in the context of the so-called “spectrum refarming”, where existing allocations are opened up to use by other technologies and services.
15) What measures, in particular regarding assignment of spectrum, could be needed at EU level to ensure that spectrum refarming best promotes service and technology innovation and progress?
16) Are measures necessary at EU level to ensure that competition between operators in the downstream service markets is not affected by spectrum refarming?
17) In order to improve flexibility in spectrum use and to stimulate competition, what steps should be taken to introduce spectrum trading in specific frequency bands? Is there a need for other harmonised assignment conditions? In order to avoid anticompetitive behaviour, what steps should be taken to prevent spectrum hoarding?
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 . On-air or internet-based commercially-funded digital radio has indeed not yet achieved widespread take up across European territories. 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 can currently be envisaged and decision on standards to be used for digital radio broadcasting should be left to the industry on a country-by-country basis.
Moreover, AER Members are mainly SMEs. So, it would be impossible for them to compete on an equal footing for access to spectrum should market-based approaches be applied to the bands used for broadcasting. This is especially true for service neutrality and secondary trading.
From this perspective, AER would like to recall the importance of the exceptions stated in article 9§4 of Directive 2002/21/EC on a common regulatory framework for electronic communications (Framework Directive) following the review of the EU electronic communications networks and services (Telecom Package): “Unless otherwise provided in the second subparagraph, Member States shall ensure that all types of electronic communications services may be provided in the radio frequency bands, declared available for electronic communications services in their National Frequency Allocation Plan in accordance with Community law. Member States may, however, provide for proportionate and non-discriminatory restrictions to the types of electronic communications services to be provided, including, where necessary, to fulfil a requirement under the ITU Radio Regulations.
Measures that require an electronic communications service to be provided in a specific band available for electronic communications services shall be justified in order to ensure the fulfilment of a general interest objective as defined by Member States in conformity with Community law, such as, and not limited to:
(a) safety of life;
(b) the promotion of social, regional or territorial cohesion;
(c) the avoidance of inefficient use of radio frequencies; or
(d) the promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity and media pluralism, for example by the provision of radio and television broadcasting services.”
AER would finally like to recall 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; and
– 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 can currently be envisaged 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 European Commission.
Contact details: Frederik Stucki
AER Secretary General
76, av. d’Auderghem,
Tel: +32 2 736 9131
Fax : +32 2 732 8990