EU investigates Spanish aid for broadcasters going digital

Freeing the digital dividend has more ramifications

The European Union's plans to free up radio spectrum for wireless broadband and other new technologies has raised sticky issues for television broadcasters in Spain.

On Wednesday the European Commission announced that it is opening an in-depth investigation into Spanish state aid to broadcasters aimed at maximizing the so-called "digital dividend."

Under the recently approved Radio Spectrum Policy Program (RSPP), radio spectrum frequencies must be reallocated in order to achieve an integrated, single E.U. market for digital technology. According to the RSPP, the 800MHz band, currently used for analog TV, should be made available for wireless broadband services in all E.U. countries by January 2013. According to the Commission, this will help to accommodate "exponential growth in the use of wireless broadband services."

In Spain, broadcasters must transmit their services simultaneously on both frequencies for a transitional period of six to 24 months, to allow citizens to adapt their reception infrastructure. This triggers extra costs for the broadcasters concerned and the Spainish authorities plan to compensate broadcasters for the added expense.

However, the Commission has concerns that the measure may favor terrestrial broadcasters over other available technologies, such as satellite transmission, in breach of the principle of technological neutrality.

In a similar case in Germany in 2005, the European Court of Justice ruled that German state aid for the costs incurred by private broadcasters due to the switchover was illegal as the broadcasters had already agreed to the switchover before state aid was envisaged.

However the Commission is committed to releasing the 790MHz-862MHz band for services such as high-speed 4G wireless broadband, mobile TV and wireless electronic books, in the shortest possible time-frame, so the outcome of the investigation is difficult to predict.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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