Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report


32.  COMMISSION GREEN PAPER ON RADIO SPECTRUM POLICY (143420/98)

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Michael Wills MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department Trade and Industry

  Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum (EM) of 2 February on this subject. This was considered by Sub-Committee B at its meeting this morning.

  The Committee notes the substantial policy matters potentially at issue. We assume that the Government will have taken its thinking on these further in framing (with the involvement of OFTEL and the Spectrum Management Advisory Group) its response to the Green Paper, due in mid-April. We should therefore be grateful if you would send us a copy of that response, in the light of which the Committee will consider the matter further.

  The Committee attaches great importance to adequate consultations with those likely to be affected by such proposals. We would be interested to know what the Government understands to be the general thrust of other UK responses to the consultation. As and when more detailed proposals emerge, we shall expect the rmore direct consultation with the range of users likely to be affected foreshadowed in paragraph 23 of your EM. In that connection, the Committee considers that paragraph 24 of your EM rather understates the potential impact on business and other users.

  In the meantime, the scrutiny reserve is retained.

29 April 1999

Letter from Michael Wills MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 29 April.

  As you suggest, the Government's thinking on the matters outlined in our Explanatory Memorandum (EM) of 2 February was taken forward between the preparation of the EM and submission of the Government's response. However, the key points made in the response are still very much in line with EM. These can be summarised as follows:

    (i)  the importance of effective, strategic spectrum management that optimises the use of the spectrum, taking account of national circumstances;

    (ii)  the need for effective international spectrum harmonisation, particularly for those services which are likely to operate on a Europe-wide or global basis;

    (iii)  the importance of building, so far as possible, on the existing arrangements for international harmonisation, through the ITU and CEPT, and avoiding unnecessary duplication;

    (iv)  the advantages of selective EU intervention to provide an impetus to harmonisation in areas where rapid international agreement is desirable, as has been done, for example, for third generation mobile telephony through the UMTS Decision;

    (v)  the need for an effective means of identifying those strategic issues where a concerted EU-wide approach would be desirable, (we have suggested this might be done through a high-level advisory group, chaired by DGXIII); and

    (vi)  the advantages of a flexible approach to assignment and licensing, in which tools such as spectrum pricing, auctions and spectrum trading could play a part, taking account of the needs and particular circumstances of each Member State.

  You asked about the general thrust of other UK responses to the consultation. From the Commission's website we understand that there were 122 responses in total, of which 17 (including the Government's), were from the UK. I attach a list of the other 16 UK respondents which may be of interest to the Committee.

  Some of these responses inevitably have a rather narrow, sectoral focus. However, I think it is fair to say that on the key issues I have summarised at (i) to (v) above, in particular on the question of the appropriate degree of EU intervention in spectrum management matters, there is a great deal of common ground between the Government's response and that of the other UK respondents. The only significant area of divergence is in relation to auctions, where some respondents have emphasised what they see as their potential drawbacks, rather than their advantages. I consider that our proposals for selective and focused use of the powers in the 1998 Act, as outlined in paragraphs 49-54 of the response, take account of the legitimate concerns expressed by some respondents.

  As stated in the EM, we will certainly consult fully with the whole range of radio users as and when specific legislative proposals emerge. Such consultation is a matter to which I attach the highest priority. Paragraphs 77 to 78 of the UK response explain the ways in which the Radicommunications Agency consults users, for example through regular publication of its Spectrum Strategy, through standing sectorally-based consultation groups and through extensive consultation on specific proposals. In addition, the Spectrum Management Advisory Group, which my predecessor Barbara Roche set up last year, provides a high level user input into the strategic management of the radio spectrum.

  Finally, I note your Committee's view that paragraph 24 of the EM rather understates the potential impact on business and users. I can only reiterate that the Green Paper does not contain any specific legislative proposals and it is far from clear that any will emerge. We believe that there is a consensus among both national administrations and industry that the approach of harmonising spectrum use in the Europe through legally binding measures, which was tried with mixed success in the early 1990s, is not the best way forward.

  Certainly, no one should be in any doubt that the Government is fully aware of the vital importance of the radio spectrum as a raw material for business activity, innovation and economic growth, as the introduction to our response, in particular, makes clear. This has been clearly stated in our Convergence Green Paper and Competitiveness White Paper and is the reason why we took the powers through the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1998 to introduce radical new spectrum management tools to enable us to ensure that this valuable resource is used in the most effective way. Your Committee can be assured that we will rigorously examine any proposals which may be brought forward following the consultation on the Green Paper in the light of this and would oppose any which were incompatible with this overriding aim.

19 May 1999

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Michael Wills MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you for your letter of 19 May in response to mine of 29 April. This was considered by Sub-Committee B at its meeting this morning.

  We were grateful for the further information you supplied. In the light of that, we lift our scrutiny reserve on this early stage of the developing initiative.

  As noted in my letter of 29 April, however, there are substantial issues at stake in developing radio spectrum policy. We expect to take a close interest in more detailed policies as and when they emerge following deliberations on responses to the EC's Green Paper. To underline a point made in my earlier letter, we shall, in particular, be interested in the arrangements made for developing the UK line in close consultation with business and other users.

1 July 1999


 
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