EU Asks Countries to Free up Bandwidth for Mobile Internet

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The European Commission wants to speed up mobile Internet access across Europe by 2013, but thinks member states need to make bandwidth available sooner rather than later.

On Friday, Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes told member states' telecommunications ministers that they should agree rapidly on the plan to make radio spectrum available for wireless broadband by 2013.

The Commission proposes to set up a Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP) to ensure that sufficient spectrum is made available for wireless broadband -- in particular the 800MHz band resulting from the switch from analog to digital television broadcasting.

At a meeting on Tuesday, European Member of Parliament Catherine Trautmann welcomed the RSPP proposal, but said that the requirement of access to 10MHz spectrum might not be sufficient. She also added a note of caution over the timetable for adoption saying "a second reading is likely."

There are also concerns about a spectrum deficit, with more demand than spectrum supply. There is an urgent need to make more spectrum available in a competitive procedure according to Mark Falcon, head of economic regulation at mobile service provider Three. Only four percent of usable spectrum is actually used for mobile services, while defense uses 30 percent.

The Commission also plans to launch a public consultation on mobile roaming charges ahead of the review of current E.U. rules due in June 2011.

"Price regulation should always be a last resort and it is essential to consider other options which could be used to create a competitive internal market for roaming," said Kroes. The commission wants the difference between national and roaming charges to approach zero by 2015.

Although consumers are benefiting from lower roaming charges -- 50 percent less for voice calls and 60 percent less for text messaging -- the roaming market is still not competitive and regulated reductions in the wholesale cost of data roaming have not yet been passed on to consumers.

"When it comes to data roaming there are six 'A list' countries -- Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, UK -- where the average price is less than one fifth of the data roaming charges consumers pay in the other 21 E.U. member states. In 'A list' countries consumers pay only €0.55 per Mb while in all other countries they are charged €2.64 per MB on average," said Jim Niblett, chair of the BEREC Expert Working Group on International Roaming at the European Competitive Telecommunications Association Conference on Tuesday.

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