Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 140-151)


MONDAY 27 MAY 2002

Lord McNally

  140. I did not mean to provoke Baroness Cohen again! We are told that you are consulting on the application to satellite services of the Recognised Spectrum Access created by clauses 115 to 118. What are you consulting about?
  (Mr Goddard) We will be consulting on the details of how it might apply. There are a lot of questions as to whether it applies to certain frequency bands, certain services, whether it is the fixed satellite service, the broadcasting satellite service, and how the RSA would be defined in the technical details of this very complex area. There are a lot of detailed questions in addition to what is on the face of the draft legislation.

  141. With whom are you consulting? With the satellite services themselves?
  (Mr Goddard) It is an open consultation for any interested parties to comment, whether it is satellite broadcasters, satellite manufacturers, providers of satellite telecommunication services, or users of those services.

  142. Why would they want to consult with you, because you are thinking of asking them for some money? Why are you consulting?
  (Mr Goddard) In the same way we did with spectrum pricing, we are proposing to add a new tool to our tool kit for managing radio spectrum. We have always worked on the principle of consulting widely with the industry before going down a fairly innovative and novel step in this case. Quite simply we do not believe we know all the answers to all the questions so we direct those questions to those who might be better informed than ourselves.

  143. Is this an area where you think there will be some substantial re-writing of the Bill once you have had your consultation?
  (Mr Goddard) It is difficult to say at this stage. We believe that the drafting at the moment would provide the framework for this new concept of Recognised Spectrum Access. It is debatable as to how the comments will go. Effectively, we are offering the operator of a satellite service a service from the regulator for which we propose there will be a fee in the same way there is in licensing and the WT Act. It is simply comparable to that.

  144. Would it involve bringing the satellite operators into the ambit of the regulator in a way that they had not been before, either voluntarily or compulsorily?
  (Mr Goddard) Yes, we certainly do not see Recognised Spectrum Access as being compulsory. At the moment the satellite operator is totally outside the remit of the Wireless Telegraphy Act. There is a question of to what extent we take into account the signals from the satellite service, whether we provide a service by building them into our calculation, whether we share it with other users of the spectrum, and that is an area we think needs addressing. Where they do share with other services, we think there is an unfairness at the moment for the satellite operator and perhaps the user of terrestrial services who are paying through spectrum pricing, and perhaps we will have spectrum which is more congested than it would be were it not for the satellite operators.

  145. I think these negotiations are going to be very interesting.
  (Mr Goddard) I think they will be very interesting and very detailed.

Anne Picking

  146. I think I will ask my second question first because I have got two questions. Intellect—which was formerly the Federation of the Electronics Industry—has put it to us that commercial services should be permitted in licence-exempt spectrum. They see this as a way forward for broadband in rural areas. They tell us you are consulting them on this. What is the state of play? Who are you consulting and what changes to the draft Bill might the results of the consultation involve?
  (Mr Goddard) The state of play is that the consultation period has closed and the responses are being evaluated. I do not know specifically who has responded but, again, it was an open consultation for any sectors of the industry—manufacturers, potential users, whatever—to respond. The challenge really is where we have licence-exempt spectrum there are no guarantees. If the frequency band fills up with services there could be congestion and interference and therefore it is a difficult question to say in those circumstances should we allow public services rather than private services to operate? That is the issue. We are at the stage now of evaluating the responses of that consultation. I do not believe that if Ministers took a decision to go down the route of allowing public services in licence-exempt spectrum it would need any changes in the legislation.

  147. Then it is back to put my consumer hat on, as I always do. You heard the question earlier, it is the same question: will OFCOM be better placed than your agency to ensure that remote areas get better representation?
  (Mr Goddard) The basic answer is there is no difference fundamentally to where we are now. If OFCOM as a whole developed a particular policy in that area, certainly that would have a much more direct influence on how we manage the spectrum. We have always worked on the principle of facilitating access to spectrum by a lot of different alternatives for industry and users to take up. That has been equally applicable in all areas.

  148. My final question—because you will have been able to rehearse your answer to some extent—is do you as a person think that is satisfactory?
  (Mr Goddard) From where I sit in the Radiocommunications Agency, yes.

Mr White

  149. Can I come back to the spectrum trading. The Bill team have given us have some helpful evidence on international comparisons, which you presumably look at all the time. Where do you think is good practice and where do you think is bad practice and what do you think we should be looking for when we look at the Bill as it currently stands?
  (Mr Goddard) I do not think there is a straightforward answer in terms of the draft legislation as such. When we come to the detailed application of spectrum trading in particular areas, we have to look very carefully at those international comparisons because obviously the situation in the UK adjacent to all the other EU countries is very different to the situation in Australia or even in the United States. We would look at practice in other countries to see how exactly they have defined the units of spectrum and what constraints they have put on the spectrum. We could envisage a very simple trading where it was transfer of licences. In other areas we may want to back off from specific definitions of what the spectrum should be used for and talking simply about a bloc of spectrum and allowing freedom and choice by the industry as to how it is used. We then have to balance that freedom with what commitments we have internationally and particularly at the European level.

  150. How much of that should be left to OFCOM as the experts and how much of that should be in terms of social policy?
  (Mr Goddard) I would envisage with OFCOM it will—as regulators have done in many other areas—develop ideas, put those out for consultation and then react to the response given. I do not think there will be any question of OFCOM trying to second-guess what is the best way forward. It can use its expertise and experience in other countries to make proposals, consult on those proposals and in the light of the feedback then develop policies.


  151. Does the Bill team have any clarification?
  (Mr Susman) No, but obviously we will be contributing to the paper that has been asked for.

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