Turncoat EU Parliament Gives Up on Defending Free Wireless Communications

Update: February 15th, 2012 – The European Parliament as a whole formally adopted the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme

Paris, November 9th, 2011 — In discussions on the future of wireless communications policies, the EU Parliament is giving in to Member States by accepting a watered-down version1 of the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme. Last Spring, the Parliament had made very constructive proposals in favour of open spectrum policies, calling2 for citizen-controlled wireless communications. Sadly, the first major effort to harmonise spectrum policy in Europe is being held back by EU governments' conservatism and the Parliament's surrender.

On Thursday3, the EU Parliament's Industry committee (ITRE) is expected to finalise debates on the first European Radio Spectrum Policy Programme4, by accepting national governments' bad amendments5 to the text. Member States are refusing any binding EU-wide policy to free up radio waves and encourage citizen uses of the spectrum.6 By doing so, they are holding back real competition, intense innovation, and enhanced wireless access to the Internet. The obvious beneficiaries of such government control over this crucial public resource are dominant telecom operators, who will be able to consolidate their control on airwaves.

The Parliament entered negotiations with a strong call in favour of opening up spectrum to innovators and entrepreneurs. In the Spring, MEPs had adopted7 important amendments calling the Commission and Member States to authorise the creation of “super Wi-Fi” networks by giving unlicensed access to spectrum8, in particular in so-called “white spaces” (bands of frequencies left unused by broadcasters9). This would have allowed for more affordable and open wireless Internet access, which is currently undermined by the harmful restrictions imposed by telecom operators10.

“As the European Council proposed a bad compromise, the Parliament didn't fight and gave in11, renouncing to defend citizens' interest. Just as the United States moves closer to establishing a comprehensive framework for open wireless communications12, the EU will be lagging behind because of the Parliament's lack of political courage and our governments' conservatism. The EU is missing an opportunity to foster the development of a decentralised wireless Internet, boost innovation and help bridge the digital divide, and instead plays into the hands of dominant telecom operators who attempt to control wireless communications.”, said Félix Tréguer, policy and legal analyst for La Quadrature du Net.