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World Radiocommunications Conference 2000 (WRC-2000)
To initiate a political discussion in the European Parliament and Council on the Community interests at stake at the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-2000), in the light of the results of the 1997 World Radiocommunications Conference, and to ensure appropriate involvement of all interested parties in the preparatory process.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on radio frequency requirements for Community policies in the context of the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-2000) [COM(98) 298 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
A vast array of radiocommunications techniques and services has become vital to the European economy, consumers and public safety. They provide essential links in public and private telecommunications networks; they assure efficient, safe transport by sea, air and land; they broadcast information services and entertainment; they allow weather forecasting and help to fight pollution and to perform many other functions needed by modern society. The point which these radiocommunications services have in common is that they compete for the use of scarce radio spectrum resources.
Decisions on which type of services may use which frequencies, and under what conditions, are taken at World Radiocommunications Conferences (WRCs) which are organised under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and in which all 15 Member States of the European Union participate. The last WRC was held in 1997 and took important decisions on mobile and satellite communications, broadcasting and satellite radionavigation and aeronautical services. The next WRC will be held in March 2000.
The context for WRCs has changed considerably from being a forum for discussing primarily technical matters in the past, to one where economic and political forces, driven by liberalisation, competition, globalisation and technological innovation in the communications and information sectors, have become decisive for the frequency allocation decisions to be taken.
At Community level, the implementation of a number of common policies depends on the availability of the frequencies needed, as in the case of mobile and satellite communications, broadcasting, aeronautical and satellite radionavigation services and Earth observation.
The Member States do not wish to give the Community the role of developing common Community positions or negotiating at WRCs on their behalf. In view of the changing WRC context, however, there is a growing need to provide political support for the WRC positions, taking into account that diverging views among WRC negotiating parties as regards frequency harmonisation are normally based on a diverging political assessment of radiocommunications systems of commercial and general interest. This could become evident, for instance, if Europe were to request further frequencies for the development of third-generation mobile communications (UMTS) which other countries could oppose due to the national focus on satellite communications (notably in the USA) or to difficulties with phasing out or relocating existing systems (in the developing countries). Frequencies for aeronautical and radionavigation services may be needed to satisfy demand for both commercial and public interest applications, depending on national requirements and priorities, and taking into account claims by commercial mobile satellite operators. Effective political backing for the technical positions worked out is therefore essential to achieve good results at the WRC and for appropriate technical and political representation of Community interests in contact with the Community's main trading partners. The Community, represented by the Commission, could be instrumental in this regard, provided the Member States themselves provide political support for the WRC positions worked out.
Coordination of the Member States' positions in CEPT for the 1995 and 1997 WRCs generally led to results allowing further development of Europe's radiocommunications market. For WRC-97, the 43 CEPT countries signed about 300 European common proposals (ECPs) for the 50 items on the agenda, most of which were adopted by the Conference. However, notwithstanding the satisfactory support from the European countries for the common European positions presented at WRC-97, very controversial issues could not be settled on the basis of technical positions alone, as was the case with respect to satellite broadband services, aeronautical and satellite-radionavigation services and Earth observation. The Community policy framework for satellite and mobile communications, which includes close consultation and coordination with industry and representative organisations, allows for precise translation of the relevant Community policies into frequency requirements to be negotiated at WRCs. However, in the case of the other policies mentioned, such consultation and coordination is not always apparent, with the risk that commercial telecommunications interests could have a stronger position for obtaining frequencies.
In accordance with the Council conclusions of 22 September 1997, which were adopted on the basis of the Commission communication to the European Parliament and the Council on WRC-97, the European Commission will be involved in WRC-2000 with the following objectives:
- ensure compliance of the European positions for the WRC with relevant Community policies both prior to and at the Conference;
- encourage European industry to propose radiocommunications initiatives and involve industry and other relevant players and organisations in the development of European positions on, inter alia, mobile and satellite communications, broadcasting, aeronautical services, radionavigation and Earth observation;
- maintain and establish contacts with third countries and regions in order to obtain their support for European objectives and to achieve a certain level of approximation of proposals before the start of the Conference;
- strengthen the negotiating position of Europe at the WRC and achieve results which are to the benefit of the European economy and its citizens.
It is necessary, however, to address these objectives in a general review of spectrum policy in the Community, where frequency requirements are examined as part of a European long-term strategic spectrum plan striking a balance between commercial and general interests, based on wide consultations with all interested parties and endorsed at political level and allowing the production of European positions for WRCs.