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European operators have a collective moan about spectrum

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Nine of Europeans largest operators have clubbed together and written a letter to the European Commission to complain about the state of affairs when it comes to spectrum regulation.

With the Gaggle of Red-tapers set to meet for an Informal Ministerial Meeting on 18th of July, the telco bosses have decided to give the repugnant regulator a poke in the ribs; they aren’t happy with the route the industry is heading. Reform to the management of spectrum is a necessity, but the bosses harbour ‘deep concerns’ over the proposed European Electronic Communication Code.

“Reforming the current spectrum rules is of the utmost importance,” the letter reads. “Creating the right spectrum policy framework in Europe is critical for the development of a true Digital Single Market.

“Failure to establish a well-functioning and investment-friendly spectrum framework risks stifling innovation, growth and development for decades to come. This will not only impact the mobile industry, but also adjacent sectors that increasingly rely on connectivity and digitalisation.”

The issue here would appear to be primarily focused around two areas; spectrum license duration and the voluntary sharing of mobile airwaves between operators. Both are areas which the telcos have some sort of common ground, with the difficulties lying with the national regulators and legislators.

The vast majority of telcos support minimum licence durations of 25 years as a standardized rule across a single market, as it would allow for the creation of scale. A presumption of renewal to be placed on these spectrum licenses would also increase certainty, allowing for larger and broader investments.

The resistance here is primarily from some governments around Europe who disliked the idea, as well as finding fault with the suggestion of a peer review mechanism to review national regulators’ draft measures on spectrum allocation.

Secondly, the telcos support the idea of voluntary sharing mobile airwaves, as it would allow operators to cover more areas without taking on the full-cost, but securing permission from governments can be difficult. There should be little surprise that the government has been a hindrance in such developments. Civil servants are stereotypically known for being a bit rubbish, and, let’s be honest, stereotypes are there for a reason; they are generally true.

Ironically, it could be the most boresome of bureaucrats of them all who save the telcos from the mits of the lethargic legislators. But the letter serves as an appropriately appropriate ‘don’t screw this up’ reminder. The concerned CEOs are as follows:

  • Eelco Blok, Chairman and CEO of KPN
  • Timotheus Höttges, CEO of Deutsche Telekom
  • Sigve Brekke, President and CEO of Telenor Group
  • José María Álvarez-Pallete, Chairman and CEO of Telefónica
  • Flavio Cattaneo, CEO of Telecom Italia (at least for the moment anyway)
  • Alejandro Plater, CEO of Telekom Austria Group
  • Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone Group
  • Stéphane Richard, Chairman and CEO of Orange
  • Johan Dennelind, President and CEO of Telia Company

While it is often difficult to feel sorry for the executives of the telcos, there is a little bit of sympathy upon the realization that they have to deal with the boresome bureaucrats more regularly than we do. It took the Gaggle a decade to sort out roaming charges, a set of rules that won’t be present in their entirety for another four years, so god knows when and what form the new spectrum regulations will take.

And that is the fear. While the letter itself is painfully PC, you can almost feel signatures of the CEOs being carved with so much frustration and fury, the pen is almost tearing the paper. Essentially, the letter is a warning to the Gaggle of Red-tapers; don’t do a ‘European Commission Job’ on this one, otherwise you’ll screw us all for a very long time.

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