European spectrum policy for the Digital Decade – options for the new Radio Spectrum Policy Programme

The EU’s Digital Decade envisages full 5G or 5G-equivalent coverage by 2030. This goal has been set to deliver digital equality and inclusion for all European citizens and businesses, no matter where they live or work.

The important question is how to best deliver on this vision and there are challenges on the road ahead. Europe already has an investment gap in telecom networks and services (€174 billion as estimated by the EC), in conjunction with overall declining or flat revenues in the sector, returns below the cost of capital, weak market valuations and high debt levels. If not addressed, these challenges will not only prevent Europe from re-establishing itself as a digital leader but will also harm its use of mobile connectivity in the fight against climate change.

A more pro-investment approach from the new Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP) can be an important driver of Europe’s connectivity goals. Effective spectrum policy can both help strong and sustainable economic growth and ensure full 5G for all European citizens and businesses by the end of the decade. There is a need to clarify the spectrum provisions already in the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) as well.

In order to make spectrum policy a lever for investment and growth, we urge regulators to consider the following regulatory actions.

  1. Licence terms: ensure long-term business certainty and alignment with investor timeframes with licence duration and establish a deadline in the RSPP for all Member States to assess renewals (in line with art. 50 EECC).
  2. Awards procedures: prevent distortive or inefficient awards for new spectrum through a strengthened review process for awards with a stronger role for the Commission to foster compliance with the EECC.
  3. Annual fees: increase transparency through the collection of information from NRAs on spectrum fees. The creation of a public database would help make comparisons of the impact of spectrum prices more feasible.
  4. Spectrum availability: establishing a clear roadmap of increased spectrum capacity and expectation of additional supply of low- and mid-band spectrum to support ongoing network expansion.
    • 470-694 MHz: set a deadline (e.g. 2026) for the Commission to put forward proposals to reduce barriers to the introduction of mobile post-2030 in interested Member States
    • 6 GHz: provide guidance to Member States on conducting a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of the different options for the band, ensuring that their value to end users and opportunity costs are properly accounted for
    • 3.8-4.2 GHz: signal a policy that is neutral at the assignment stage and flexible from a forward-looking perspective i.e. one that maps incumbent users and defines the least restrictive technical conditions as well as allowing for second wave licences without power restrictions once demand for local use is determined
  5. Minimum scale: recognise that 5G deployments require a scale that may be supported by consolidation. Regulators should take this into account in the context of spectrum policy and when considering regulatory interventions such as preferential treatment for new entrants in spectrum awards.

The new RSPP is an opportunity to improve many aspects of EU spectrum policy and deliver wider adoption of best practices. Rules based on these principles will help achieve a more harmonised approach to licensing, encourage more ambitious investment outcomes across the Union and deliver the far-reaching goals of the Digital Decade for the ultimate benefit of EU citizens and businesses.

Read the GSMA position paper on the issue here.