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How to carve up the Digital Dividend?

Ofcom consults the public while the EU mulls mandates

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Ofcom has discovered that the general public would like to see more TV channels, but not on their phones, when analogue TV is switched off. Meanwhile, Brussels suggests the regulator should handing over half the spectrum released to the EU Commission.

The frequencies being released by the analogue switch-off are nicely placed for decent range and in-building penetration, and there are plenty of business plans looking to take advantage of the spectrum when it becomes available (nationwide in the UK by 2012).

But the EU is concerned that leaving it to the free market - an approach favoured by the UK regulator Ofcom - will lead to different technologies being pushed too close to each other, and thus increasing the potential for interference. What they would like to see, as set out in the Digital Dividend Communication (pdf), is a three-way split with the lower part of the spectrum reserved for broadcast TV and country-specific services, while the higher bands would be managed by the EU themselves to ensure cross-Europe applications and minimise the potential for interference.

Current analogue broadcasting stretches from around 470MHz up to 872MHz, and the EU would like to see the lower half of that available to national regulators, such as Ofcom, to allocate for Digital TV and such; while the top half is run from Brussels for high-speed bidirectional services and narrow-band broadcast services such as mobile TV.

The lack of interest in mobile TV is highlighted in Ofcom's latest research (pdf), which shows that the majority of people want more channels on freeview, and better mobile phone coverage, rather than the ability to watch Trisha on the move. Ofcom interviewed nearly 2000 people for its Digital Dividend Review, and spent a day with many of them showing the technology and explaining what it would be capable of:

"Improved mobile phone and mobile broadband services started high and steadily rose over the course of the discussions... mobile TV’s value dropped over the day in direct comparison."

The EU won't be mandating anything, or even deciding how much spectrum it wants to grab, until it's completed a series of "technical studies", and even then the proposal will have to go before the Radio Spectrum Committee where every country is represented.

With analogue TV already being switched off in parts of the UK, and auctions set to start next year, there's not a lot of time to decide how we're going to spend our digital dividend, assuming it's our decision to make. ®

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