EU hints at central takeover of radio spectrum licensing
The European Union may be planning to take over spectrum licensing from the individual European government agencies, according to a report from the European Commission published last week.
The report is an update to the state of the market for third-generation mobile technology and services, prepared under the guidance of Erkki Liikanen, member of the EC for Enterprise and Information Society. According to the report: "the harmonization in licensing conditions and radio spectrum assignment may avoid market distortions and uncertainty in the sector." The EC is now opening talks with national regulators and operators to decide if this is a good idea.
However, after the enormous variation in prices paid for third-generation mobile licenses across Europe and the impact this has had on the market as a whole, national governments should probably be seriously thinking about someone else setting the license conditions. Even after the 3G debacle, the countries, especially the UK and France, also managed to make the commercial conditions for fixed wireless broadband licensees so onerous that the licenses failed to raise any real cash for the goverments.
The EC has also finally made a decision over mobile spectrum trading, which could become essential to make some of the national third-generation mobile markets actually work. The EC will put pressure on its member states to decide if they think 3G spectrum trading is a good idea, and then introduce it across the whole of the EU at once, much as it did with regulations for mobile infrastructure sharing.
Although Liikanen admitted that the individual countries that made such a hash of 3G licensing (France, Germany, Italy and the UK) have set the conditions of their licenses themselves and need to decide if they want to change them, this is something that apparently cannot be done retroactively by the EC.
The Commission also believes that Europe is on the brink of launching 3G mobile services, even as operators continue to postpone their plans for full commercial launches of their services. One area that the Commission has clarified is in telecoms regulation, and Liikanen promised that the EC will be light-handed in terms of regulating 3G services, and said that under the new telecoms framework, 3G services count as emerging markets, and are essentially exempt from regulation until they mature.