The European Commission has called on member states to speed up their switchover from analogue to digital television, to free up spectrum for wireless broadband services.
The Commission first announced its intention to set aside the so-called 'digital dividend' spectrum for wireless broadband in 2007. Since then, consultations and industry negotiations have taken place, leading to the proposals set out by the Commission on Wednesday.
"The digital dividend is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make 'broadband for all' a reality all over Europe and boost some of the most innovative sectors of our economy," information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement. "Europe will only make the most of the digital dividend if we work together on a common plan."
Reding called on EU countries to have their digital TV switchovers completed by the start of 2012, and urged national telecoms regulators such as the UK's Ofcom to "use the digital dividend in a pro-competitive way to open up the market for new operators and new services, maximising the impact on the economy".
The Commission also announced plans to harmonise the technical conditions for the spectrum in question — in the 790-862MHz sub-band — across Europe, so users can roam across borders with their web-surfing devices and use the same services.
According to the Commission, successful co-ordination of the digital dividend across Europe will boost the continent's economy by somewhere between €20bn (£18bn) and €50bn over 15 years, and contribute to the goal of offering the whole EU population high-speed broadband by the end of 2013.
Transmissions on the 790-862MHz sub-band, which lies in the UHF band, are of a lower frequency than existing 3G bands, so they can travel over greater distances and penetrate buildings more efficiently. This makes it ideal for rolling out wireless broadband services in rural areas, where operators might be loath to deploy great numbers of access nodes due to low subscriber density.
The Commission said it will try to gain support for its plans from the European Parliament and Council in the first half of 2012, and that it plans "further debate with existing and potential users of the spectrum on longer-term issues" before the proposals are finalised.
The European Parliament has already backed the idea of common spectrum being set aside for wireless broadband services across the continent.
"Ofcom welcomes the Commission's publications on the digital dividend," the UK regulator said in a statement. "This underscores the benefits the use of this spectrum can bring to citizens and consumers in member states across the EU, as first recognised in the UK several years ago. We will now study the detail carefully with the government."