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EU to 'guide' local regulators on digital dividend

Mme Reding readies big stick for Ofcom

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EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding will produce a set of guidelines for countries planning to sell off their analogue TV spectrum, in the interests of ensuring a reasonable return on investment.

The latest salvo in the ideological war between the EU and local regulators saw Ms Reding assuring ministers that she'll be publishing the guidelines at the end of this summer. They'll set out how frequency harmonisation will lead to a better return for investors, and thus guarantee that investment.

Cleverly the Telecoms Commissioner didn't mention harmonisation at all, instead focusing on "give[ing] certainty to investors on their return on investments over a reasonable timeframe". She also wants to see enforced roaming, such as that used in the current Canadian auction, to help new entrants get a leg up.

That's fine if one assumes that new services are going to be much like the old ones, but I'm not sure I'd want my Kindle roaming to a voice network or my mobile TV attaching itself to someone's 3G infrastructure.

Ofcom, the UK regulator, wants to see spectrum auctioned off without regulation so buyers (sorry, "licensees") can do what they want with it. Harmonisation would see specific frequencies reserved for particular applications, such as the DVB-H standard for mobile TV that Viviane is so keen to promote.

Ministers are today debating the creation of a new regulatory body to handle spectrum across Europe, though just about everyone is opposed to the super-regulator originally proposed and some form of working group comprised of the heads of the regional regulators now seems more likely.

The Telecoms Commissioner has proposed a set of measures aimed at centralising control of spectrum, but those won't come in to law for years - while Ofcom is planning to sell off the digital dividend in 12 months.

The guidelines should be out by the end of this summer. They won't be legally enforceable, though Ofcom will be required to take note of them or at least explain why it's choosing not to. ®

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