UK: Commission Consults On Digital Dividend

Last Updated: 27 July 2009
Article by Chris Watson and Adam Gillert

Most European states are planning to switch or in the process of switching from analogue to digital TV broadcasting on a national basis. This switch over will free a significant amount of valuable UHF band spectrum (the UK hopes to complete the switch over by the end of 2012). This newly available spectrum is commonly referred to as the "digital dividend". The European Commission (the Commission) believes that the digital dividend is an exceptional opportunity for Europe to meet the increasing demands for spectrum and encourage innovative wireless services as well as achieving the Lisbon goals of competitiveness and economic growth. This will contribute to the social and cultural needs of Europeans. The Commission has therefore issued a consultation document (the Consultation) outlining the courses of action under consideration for the development of a common EU approach to using the digital dividend.


The Commission believes that up to EUR 80 billion of additional economic benefit from the digital dividend could be gained by means of European coordination on its use. The Consultation suggest that coordination might be achieved by the EU agreeing an EU-wide "roadmap" that would define "the process" and key deadlines for implementing a set of "strategic actions". The Commission envisages that those "strategic actions" would include steps to increase the size and quality of the digital dividend and a higher degree of consistency between EU Member States in their response to the technical issues encountered in network deployment. The Consultation envisages a roadmap designed to encourage long-term convergence between Member States but accepts that the roadmap should not be more prescriptive than necessary and also that there is a need for flexibility.

The Consultation contains an overview of some of the preparatory steps, consultations, technical preparation and studies which have already been conducted by or for the Commission on this topic.


The Consultation highlights that it will be important that the European Parliament and Council be involved in the preparation and the "main decisions" concerning the strategic elements of the roadmap. The Commission states that it intends to rely on the future multi-annual radio spectrum policy programme as the main vehicle to achieve endorsement by the European Parliament and Council of the most strategic elements of the future roadmap.

The proposed components for the roadmap include:

  • Improving consumers' experience by ensuring high quality standards for terrestrial digital television receivers in Europe with particular priority on:
    1. ensuring the availability of a compression standard on all DTT receivers sold after 1 January 2012 that is at least as efficient as the H264/MPEG-4 AVC standard;
    2. setting standards for the ability of digital TV receivers to resist interference.
  • Increasing the size of the digital dividend through further spectrum efficiency gains (based on previous study, the Commission has suggested that a significant part of the potential efficiency gains could be achieved if certain initiatives set out in the Consultation are agreed and implemented at the EU level).
  • Making the 800 MHz band available for low/medium power electronic communications networks, under harmonised technical conditions, following the principle of technology and service neutrality.
  • Adopting a common position on the potential use of "white spaces" (i.e. interleaved spectrum unused between broadcasting coverage areas).
  • Ensuring the continuity and further development of wireless microphone applications and other secondary uses of the UHF spectrum.
  • More effective cross-border coordination with non-EU countries.
  • Addressing future challenges - for example, the Commission proposes the establishment of a mechanism to monitor and report on external developments affecting the roadmap.

Urgent Actions

The Consultation identifies two actions which the Commission believes should be undertaken "without delay" in anticipation of the roadmap and in relation to which the Commission hopes to begin taking action this autumn. In summary these are:

  • Accelerating analogue switch-off - including a proposal that all Member States commit in national law to a switch-off of analogue broadcasting by 1 January 2012 (as noted, the UK's proposals currently envisage some regions such as Tyne Tees not receiving digital until later in 2012);
  • Taking steps towards opening the 800 MHz band for electronic communications services by adopting harmonised technical conditions for use in Europe.

Next Steps

The consultation will run until 4 September 2009.

In addition to progressing the urgent actions, the Commission hopes to adopt a Communication on the digital dividend this autumn (including the Commission proposals for the development of the EU roadmap). The Commission hopes to incorporate the main elements of its proposals into the wider spectrum action programme to be submitted in early 2010 to the European Parliament and Council for adoption.

The Consultation raises many issues not covered here. For further detail see the press release from the Commission and the Consultation.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 27/07/2009.

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