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Government backs Ofcom against EU regulator plan

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The UK government is banding together with France and Germany to reiterate its opposition to the idea of an EU-wide regulator, so beloved of communications commissioner Viviane Reding.

The details come in a written statement from Baroness Vadera, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Competitiveness, who makes it abundantly clear where the British government stands:

...the Government have never been convinced of the case for a new pan-EU regulator ... You will be reassured to know that none of my opposite numbers in other member states, or indeed the views from the European Parliament, support the Commission’s original proposals.

To avoid ceding too much power to the EU without rejecting it completely, the good Baroness agreed to set up "...a much smaller entity comprising of the chairs of all 27 National Regulatory Authorities complemented by a small permanent secretariat appropriate only to undertake the revised remit".

Ofcom has long been adamant that the best way to ensure the maximum value of spectrum is to sell if off to the highest bidder, and let them do with it as they wish. But Viviane Reding is equally adamant that pan-European services are the only way to achieve economies of scale that can bring down the cost of hardware. This is an ideological difference, without much in the way of middle ground for agreement.

There are still bands in the 3G spectrum that lie unused in the UK: everyone except Vodafone paid for spectrum that is restricted by regulation to TDD services that none of them ever deployed. This is clearly insane, especially given the amount paid for the spectrum, but then if it weren't for harmonisation enforced with regulation those frequencies probably wouldn't have been worth so much.

Ofcom points out that GSM already operates on five different frequencies, and most handsets can switch between most of those, so frequency harmonisation isn't as important as it once was. Not to mention that if one assumes we're all going to be using software-defined radios soon then everyone will be able to do everything anyway – and that's an assumption Ofcom is willing to make.

The fact that the government is backing Ofcom's corner comes as no surprise, and bodes well for Qualcomm introducing MediaFLO when Viviane Reding would prefer to see DVB-H across Europe, and if the government can keep the EU talking while Ofcom sells the digital dividend then it will be too late to harmonise anything anyway. ®

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