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IP/10/1195

Brussels, 29 September 2010

State aid: Commission opens two investigations on Spanish National Transition Plan for digitization and extension of terrestrial television network.

The European Commission has opened in-depth investigations to examine whether two schemes to finance the digitization and extension of the terrestrial television network in Spain are in line with EU state aid rules. One investigation concerns the Spanish plan to finance the transition to digital terrestrial television (DTT). The Commission has concerns that the measure favours certain technologies to the detriment of others, in breach of the principle of technological neutrality. The second case concerns the implementation of the transition plan in the region of Castilla - La Mancha, where, in addition to a possible technological discrimination, there are allegations of a discrimination against regional and local terrestrial platform operators. The opening of an in-depth investigation gives interested third parties the possibility to submit comments on the proposed measures. It does not prejudge the outcome of the procedure.

Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy, Joaquín Almunia, said: "The Commission welcomes Member States' efforts in ensuring a smooth transition from analogue to digital technology. However, we have to make sure, that any State initiative is carried out in compliance with EU state aid rules and does not discriminate between the different platforms."

The aid measures have been implemented, without prior notification, until 3rd April 2010, when the transition to the digital technology was completed. The Commission proceedings stem from complaints lodged by a satellite platform operator and by a terrestrial platform operator.

After a preliminary investigation, the Commission has doubts that the two measures are in line with EU state aid rules. In particular, the Commission has concerns that the Spanish measures may violate the principle of technological neutrality, which prescribes the equal treatment of all transmission platforms, independently of the technology used.

Indeed, the Spanish transition plan only provides for financing the digitization and extension of the existing terrestrial network, without considering any form of support for the satellite platform, which would also be available and suitable to cover the territory. Moreover, the implementing measures for Castilla – La Mancha foresee that only platform operators which serve national broadcasters may access the grants. This may entail a discrimination of local platforms which have contracts with local or regional broadcasters.

During its in-depth investigations, the Commission will assess the complainants' allegations and invite comments from interested parties.

Background

In its decision on subsidies for the digital terrestrial TV in Berlin-Brandebourg, the Commission gave indications on how Member States could support the digital switchover in compliance with EU state aid rules (see IP/05/1394). The Commission's decision in this case has recently been upheld by the EU General Court (cases T-8/06, T-21/06 and T-24/06). The principle of technological neutrality has furthermore been confirmed in the General Court ruling on the Commission's decision in the Mediaset case ((case T-177/07, see CJE/10/55).


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