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Article on PublicServiceEurope: Radio spectrum key to European prosperity

My ambition with the first EU radio spectrum policy programme is to make Europe the home of this wireless revolution. I want Europe to lead the process of change, creating the best opportunities for a competitive knowledge economy characterised by vitality, change and innovation.

A European market with nearly 500 million people connected to high-speed broadband would act as a catalyst for the development of the internal market, giving each user increased value. Mobile internet solutions and wireless technologies are rapidly transforming our societies and economies. The demand for traffic has exploded, growing by more than 100 per cent every year and new services within telecommunications, healthcare, energy and logistics sectors are improving the lives of billions of people.

We can only imagine the societal and economic opportunities that future technologies, such as cloud computing, will bring in the wireless revolution. The spectrum programme should lay the foundations for a development – whereby the union can take the lead on issues relating to broadband speeds, mobility, coverage and capacity. Global leadership is essential to establish a competitive digital single market, which will serve to open up the internal market for all citizens.

We want Europe to be the best. And in order to achieve this ambition, we must secure the best opportunities for industry, entrepreneurs, customers and users. First of all, I have proposed that member states adhere to the 2013 deadline for opening up the 800 MHz band for electronic communications services. The 800 MHz band must be clear for mobile broadband services and derogations should, therefore, only be authorised in exceptional cases.

Secondly, I propose to free up additional spectrum for wireless broadband services, amounting to at least 1200 MHz by 2015. To achieve this, we have to open up additional spectrum bands for wireless broadband services in the 1.5 GHz and 2.3 GHz bands. Thirdly, we have initiated a debate around the 700 MHz band – asking the European Commission to monitor the capacity requirements for mobile broadband in order to assess it, if further spectrum harmonisation is needed.

Finally, we must extend the allocations of unlicensed spectrum in the higher frequency bands in order to stimulate the use of Wi-Fi. These changes will need adjustment along the way. Although, the improvements and possibilities created will be of immense importance to all, some will be more affected than others. Changed frequencies for microphones in theatres and churches might incur expenses, but they will be very limited – as transitions will not be introduced this year or next. We have underlined the necessity of predictability and stability in decision making.

The programme also contains provisions for member states to compensate for migration costs for current users of frequencies. Courageous political decisions are now needed, if we want Europe to become a global leader in the digital economy. The legislation won very strong support in the European Parliament, with 615 votes against 26, and it is now up to member states to show that they are able to contribute to the reforms we need – in order to enhance competitiveness and make Europe the home for the next telecom revolution.

If we do not set ourselves ambitious targets now and if we only aim to be the world’s number three, the wireless revolution will happen outside the EU. New services, innovations and knowledge will instead come from China, India or other emerging countries. The radio spectrum program will then be a lost opportunity for Europe to regain its global leadership in the IT sector. This would be very bad news and damage our efforts to create the world’s most competitive knowledge economy. We can make the change we need and we must.

Gunnar Hökmark is vice president of the European People’s Party Group and is responsible for the European Parliament’s report on the radio spectrum programme