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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Spectrum must be backbone of internet revolution, not the bottleneck
6th Annual European Spectrum Management Conference
Brussels, 14th June 2011
Thank you for once again for inviting me here. It is always a great pleasure to talk to those who are experts in such a technical field. I myself am not a technical expert: I am an economist, a businesswoman and a politician. But in that capacity I can recognise the very important role that spectrum management has for the Digital Agenda, and thereby for our economy.
Infrastructure is digital oxygen, and without it neither consumer demand nor content production can flourish. So if you'll permit me, for all that we come from different orientations, I think we are on the same wavelength. And it's a pleasure to be invited to talk to you with such frequency.
There is an ever-growing market for mobile internet, smartphones and tablets, which makes this agenda even more pressing than it was when I spoke to you last year.
But wireless broadband also supports our objective of getting every European Digital with access to broadband – including the 10 million households, particularly in less densely populated areas, who currently remain without such access. That's why it's a cornerstone of our Radio Spectrum Policy Programme to facilitate wireless broadband access by making available radio spectrum in all Member States, quickly, and under conditions which are conducive to consumer welfare.
And wireless broadband is also instrumental in the fast take-up of mobile high-speed internet. Eventually, the convergence of fixed and mobile broadband will create tremendous opportunities for new services that would not be possible without the "mobility function". I am thinking, for example, of the rapid growth in location-based services.
My vision is for spectrum use which is as efficient as possible. Flexibility and competition are needed for this. But, to be blunt, we will also need to work together as Europe, as the e27, to achieve that.
I know this is not easy. But there are two points I would make here.
First, although the tools and expertise clearly lie in the hands of Member States, it is only by working together and pooling our intellectual resources we can achieve the greatest level of consistency and efficiency.
Second, we cannot forget that in developing its digital sector, Europe is taking part in a global game. And we are at risk of being outclassed by the other players – who are already engaging in major spectrum initiatives. To the West, we know the importance of "wireless" in President Obama's broadband plan. We also see an acceleration of developments to our East. We are at risk of being squeezed from both sides.
That's not to say there hasn't been a lot of progress since last year's annual spectrum conference. There has. The change of mindset at the highest political level would not have been possible without the active contribution of many of you present today, whether policy makers, regulators or industry. Let me use this opportunity to thank you sincerely for that.
When I spoke to you last June, the Commission was still working on the preparation of the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme. Now, we have a solid proposal which has already been clearly endorsed by the European Parliament, as demonstrated by the vote in the first reading on 11 May. And I would like to thank once again Mr Hokmark, the Rapporteur who is with us today, and the shadow rapporteurs, for their leading role in resolving such a complex matter.
I will admit, positions of Member States in the Council have been more contrasted but the debates are very intense, and there are encouraging signs of willingness to go forward with ambitious plans on the most important aspects.
But how do we proceed from here? To achieve the kind of successful, joined-up European approach we need, I think there are three key issues where we will need to work further with all stakeholders.
First, we need to open up more spectrum for wireless broadband, and hence stick to the existing deadlines for harmonising spectrum bands. That includes delivering on our 2012 obligations for spectrum that is already harmonised, and taking all the steps necessary to open the digital dividend 800 MHz band by 2013.
Of course we understand the possible need for limited derogations in duly justified cases. In such cases I am committed to helping those Member States that have serious and objective problems. In particular, we will work closely with Member States to solve problems of co-ordination with third countries, while providing the necessary assurances that the legal framework will accommodate any delays that are brought about by matters outside their control.
Second, in order to deliver fresh spectrum, we need to have a serious European inventory of spectrum use and review of efficiency. Our main concern is to preserve the "EU dynamic" of the proposed review. We cannot rely only on individual Member States' self-assessments of efficient use. How could we conduct an efficient and coherent EU spectrum policy without a clear understanding of actual spectrum uses across Europe?
And third, we can't do any of this alone: we must work with international partners, and so we must resolve issues of the role of the EU in international negotiations and coordination. We should not "water down" the Commission's proposal here. We understand that there is a broader political context, as this is a horizontal issue linked to Lisbon Treaty implementation.
Here, we want to be pragmatic but we need to ensure an efficient defence of EU interests and "common rules" in future international cooperation, including the forthcoming World Radiocommunications Conference in 2012.
When we are facing issues with a clear impact on policies where the EU has exercised its internal competencies, or where crucial EU interests are at stake, we cannot continue to rely solely on an "aggregation" of Member States' positions evolving dynamically during the conference negotiations.
Therefore I hope that, both in the immediate WRC preparations and in the RSPP, we can put into practice what everyone accepts in principle – that the international dimension of spectrum is crucial to allowing the EU to achieve the growth and innovation we need.
So those are the main outstanding issues from my perspective. Following the discussion between Ministers on 27 May, I hope that the Council and the European Parliament can quickly reach agreement in the coming months and at the latest by the end of the year. And I can ensure you that the Commission will continue working hard to achieve this.
I could not close my intervention without making reference to the promising developments happening in the European marketplace, out there in the real world.
I am very impressed by the early entry into the market of 4th generation wireless services. In particular, LTE technology. Of the 60 countries where LTE rollout is already planned, 29 are in Europe, while Europe also accounts for 8 of the 14 that already have live networks. One year ago, we thought that companies in the US would be alone in pioneering the 4th generation systems, now we can say that Europe is in the lead.
As you know, I am also the Commissioner in charge of research in ICT. This is another field where I have reason to be optimistic. We see a flurry of new technologies that allow sharing the use of spectrum in a more efficient and more economical way - from cognitive radio, to dynamic aggregation of channels to increased bandwidth.
We are hopeful that these technologies will also enable more spectrum sharing between public and commercial uses. And the good thing is that we are not simply taking spectrum away from one user to give it to another. Rather, we ensure that the existing spectrum can be used more intensely. In fact, we can reduce spectrum scarcity and so make the "pie" bigger for everyone. This is a clear win-win for Europe and I will continue to push for research into it.
And I also want to open the gates for these new technologies. In particular, I want to prevent outdated regulations from getting in the way of business innovation resulting from these technological breakthroughs. The Commission therefore plans, in 2012, a Communication on shared use of spectrum, to take advantage of these new developments as quickly as possible.
Finally, I would like to close by asking all of you to continue to work responsibly for quick adoption of the RSPP, considering the importance of the work ahead to implement this programme. As policy makers, we should never forget the ultimate goal of our work: to make a difference to the lives of our citizens and to support our economy.
Yes the EU is a complex construction, and yes there are many different responsible authorities here. But we cannot lose sight of the importance of the task. If we get it right, intelligent and coherent use of radio spectrum will be the backbone of an Internet explosion serving us in the decades to come. Get it wrong and it will be a bottleneck, which will hold back development of the sector, undermine the potential for job creation, and mean we risk losing our competitive edge in the world.