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Brussels, 20 March 2003

European Commission adopts Recommendation to promote public wireless broadband services in Europe

The European Commission adopted today a recommendation that calls upon Member States to facilitate the use of Radio Local Area Networks (R-LAN) for accessing public services. The Recommendation encourages Member States to allow deployment of public R-LAN access networks without sector specific conditions and subject only to general authorisations. The Commission thereby implements the policy objective set by the European Council to foster multiple broadband access platforms in support of the Information Society. R-LANs (also referred to as W-LAN and Wi-Fi) are currently operating mainly in licence-exempt frequency bands. They are a fast-developing, innovative and promising means of implementing broadband wireless access to the Internet, and as such complement other broadband access infrastructures. Developed initially for private usage (e.g. corporate Intranets), these R-LAN platforms are now increasingly revealing their market potential for accessing the public Internet when in areas such as airports, train stations and shopping malls. Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for Enterprise and Information Society said, "Today's Recommendation is an important step for the deployment of multi-platform and high-speed Internet connections. The R-LAN technology will give European citizens ready-access to the knowledge-based society when in public places, and away from their home location and will be complementary to other means to access broadband services."

This recommendation finds its roots in the need to foster multiple broadband access platforms to the Information Society as stressed by the eEurope 2005 Action Plan(1) and the recent Communication 'Electronic Communications: the Road to the Knowledge Economy'.(2) The new regulatory framework provides the basis for co-operation with Member States on the introduction of such services. In this context, the new Radio Spectrum Decision(3) will also ensure sufficient spectrum availability and efficient spectrum use.

Until now, broadband access has been mostly offered over the copper telephone network (e.g. using ADSL technology) or via cable TV networks (and cable modems). R-LANs offer a complementary approach, which is fast-developing as a popular means for broadband wireless access to the Internet for the public in general.

R-LANs were originally conceived for private networks. Today, they operate predominantly in the license-exempt 2.4 GHz band. The risk of interference between different R-LANs sharing the same frequencies and with other co-existing services is accepted by the parties involved, and minimised by technical means (such as power limitation, etc.).

This recommendation will encourage all Member States to allow the deployment of public R-LAN access networks without sector specific conditions and subject only to general authorisations in line with the new Authorisation Directive(4). The Recommendation further asks Member States to subject the use of available radio spectrum to the least onerous authorisation system, recalls the principle of technological neutrality; and insists on the security and confidentiality of public communications networks and services.

The draft recommendation was comprehensively discussed with Member States in the Communications Committee, which gave its favourable opinion on 24 January 2003. It represents the first of two phases of action regarding R-LAN. The second phase will seek to identify radio spectrum issues and harmonise the necessary frequency usage parameters and requirements. This second phase is timed to follow the forthcoming International Telecommunications Union negotiations at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2003 in June, which inter alia will seek to establish additional radio spectrum for R-LAN systems in the 5 GHz band.

(1)Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, eEurope 2005: An information society for all (COM(2002) 263 final).

(2)COM(2003) 65 final.

(3) OJ L 108 of 24.4.2002, p. 1.

(4)OJ L 108 of 24.4.2002, p. 21.

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