Documents considered by the Committee on 8 February 2017 Contents

17Digital Single Market: Use of the 470–790MHz Radio Spectrum band

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny

Document details

Proposal for a Decision on the use of the 470–790MHz frequency band in the Union

Legal base

114 TFEU; ordinary legislative procedure; QMV


Culture, Media and Sport

Document Number

(37504), 5814/16 + ADDs 1–2, COM(16) 43

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

17.1Radio spectrum is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum from 3 Hz to 3000 GHz (3 THz). Electromagnetic waves in this frequency range, called radio waves, are widely used in modern technology, which depends on the radio spectrum to transmit and receive information. Different parts of the radio spectrum have different properties, and those that can transmit large volumes of data over long distances and penetrate building structures are consequently in high demand from a variety of different types of service provider.

17.2Given increasing demand for wireless devices, the efficient allocation and use of spectrum is considered critically important for the growth of the digital economy. The Commission considers that more coordinated use of spectrum would help to limit interference across EU borders and facilitate the timely roll-out of 5G across the EU—considered key for the deployment of innovative services such as connected cars or remote healthcare.

17.3As part of its Digital Single Market (DSM) Strategy, the Commission published a draft Decision on the use of the ultra-high frequency (UHF) broadcasting band (470–790MHz) in the EU in February. The proposal aims to respond to the growing need for mobile internet, by clearing and allocating the 700MHz band (694–790MHz) for mobile broadband services, while at the same time safeguarding conventional digital terrestrial television (DTT) services at the sub-700MHz band (470–693MHz).

17.4The Government has supported EU coordination of clearance of the 700MHz band for mobile broadband by 2020, but objected to its proposal to restrict use of the sub-700MHz band to ‘downlink-only’ (uni-directional) transmissions, as this would potentially have interfered with Ofcom’s TV White Spaces initiative. The Government also objected to the introduction of wireless broadband coverage obligations for the 700MHz band at EU level. On 26 May 2016 the Telecommunications Council agreed a General Approach that closely reflected the UK position.

17.5The Minister now writes to update the Committee on the outcome of trilogue negotiations which took place on 14 December. The Government’s main concerns have been accommodated in the outcome. The main circumstance which might prevent the Government from clearing the 700MHz band by 2020 is extreme weather conditions, and so the Government secured the addition of force majeur to the list of justified reasons for a delay. The final text does not grant the Commission a mandate to develop a common EU position in advance of future World Radiocommunications Conferences, but does require it to monitor use of the 470–694MHz band in future—a compromise the Minister accepts. Whether or not to introduce mobile broadband coverage obligations is left to individual Member States, in line with the Government’s position. An article by article account of the final provisions in the legal text is provided in the account of the Minister’s letter of 20 January 2017.

17.6The Minister provides the Committee with a summary of the compromise text that was agreed at the trilogue meeting on 14 December 2016, which substantially addresses UK concerns about the original Commission text. The Minister notes that:

17.7We now clear this document from scrutiny.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Decision on the use of the 470–790MHz frequency band in the Union: (37504), 5814/16 + ADDs 1–2, COM(16) 43.


17.8The detail of the draft Decision, the Government’s position on it and points which the Committee has sought to clarify are set out in the Committee’s previous reports, listed at the end of this chapter.

The Minister’s letter of 20 January 2017

17.9The Minister of State for Digital and Culture (Matthew Hancock) writes to the Committee with an update on the progress of the file in trilogue negotiations. He states that “The EU UHF [Ultra-High Frequency] decision completed its first and final trilogue discussion on 14 December”.

17.10The Minister states that the text agreed in trilogues “meets the objectives and red lines set out by the Government in previous correspondence” and provides an article by article account of how it does so. The Minister states that:

17.11On Brexit, the Minister states that “the UK made the decision to reallocate the 700MHz band for mobile broadband in November 2014. We therefore believe that it is not necessary to introduce specific UK legislation once the UK exits the European Union, or to repeal the proposed decision”. On the other hand, if the EU chose to adopt a more integrated, Union-level approach to spectrum management—which the Commission has recently proposed as part of its Directive establishing a European Electronic Communications Code (Recast) (12252/16) and Regulation establishing the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) (2016/0286)—this could have significant ramifications for the UK’s ability to influence emerging standards in this policy area. However, these Brexit implications are best considered in relation to the proposed reforms to the EU’s regulatory frameworks referred to above.

17.12The Minister states that the final version of the text “will be raised at COREPER on Friday 20 January where it is expected to be approved to go to a Council Meeting as an FA’ Point. The date it will be raised at a Council meeting has not been confirmed but we expect it will take 4–6 weeks after the COREPER meeting”.

The Minister’s letter of 7 December 2016

17.13The Minister wrote to update the Committee on progress in relation to the 700MHz decision. The key points he made were that:

Previous Committee Reports

First Report HC 71-i (2016–17), chapter 2 (19 May 2016), and Twenty-sixth Report HC 342-xxv (2015–16), chapter 2 (16 March 2016).

10 February 2017