|Issue:||Europe II 2009|
|Topic:||Dividing the ‘digital dividend|
|Author:||Professor N. Alexandridis|
|Title:||President, Hellenic Telecommunications & Post Commission (EETT)|
|Organisation:||Hellenic Telecommunications & Post Commission|
Dr N. Alexandridis is the President, Hellenic Telecommunications & Post Commission (EETT). Dr Alexandridis devoted most of his career to academic positions including Professor of the first Chair of Computer Science in Greece at the School of Engineering of the University of Patras; Professor of Digital Systems and Computers at the National Technical University of Athens; and as Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the George Washington University, Washington DC. Dr Alexandridis has published many works in international scientific journals and conferences. He is the author of 12 textbooks including three in English. He was a founding member and the first President of the Greek Computer Society. He is a member of the Technical Chamber of Greece, is listed in a number of versions of Who’s Who, and has received many honours and awards. Dr Alexandridis graduated from Anatolia College. He earned his B.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering from Ohio University and his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science and Computer Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
The transition from analogue to digital broadcasting will free significant amounts of spectrum for other uses; digital channels use one-fourth the bandwidth of analogue channels. The freed spectrum, or ‘digital dividend’ can be used for many new and better services and can have an important social impact if wisely apportioned. Greece and other EU countries are reserving part of the dividend for new TV services, mobile TV, a wide range of public interest services and for stimulating economic growth.
In finance, a dividend is the proportion of the earnings of a corporation paid out to shareholders. With the coming of digital television and digital broadcasting, another dividend, of the digital kind, is expected to accrue for the benefit of society. It is commonly referred to, in political and technical circles, as the digital dividend. The transition from analogue to digital broadcasting will lead to significant gains in spectrum efficiency since the spectrum required for a digital channel is about one-fourth of that required for an analogue one. Once all analogue TV channels have been switched to digital, there will be free spectrum – the digital dividend – which could be used for a range of new or improved services: • Extension of mobile communications coverage • Ubiquitous broadband access through wireless broadband • Mobile TV services • Enhanced social services (e-government, e-health, e-education, etc) • High-definition TV • Others to be defined in time A European Commission communication (May 2005) on, ‘accelerating the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting’, proposed early 2012 as the deadline for closing down analogue terrestrial broadcasting. It also encouraged member states to develop plans for the optimal use of the digital dividend so that new types of electronic communications services could be developed. This was followed in November 2007 by another communication on ‘reaping the full benefits of the digital dividend in Europe: a common approach to the use of the spectrum released by the digital switchover.’ The Commission proposed a coordinated EU approach to ensure optimal use of the digital dividend. Finally, on September 24, 2008, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Commission’s communication of November 2007. The positions of the Parliament can be summarized as follows: 1. “Calls for close cooperation among member states to achieve an efficient, open and competitive electronic communications internal market…” 2. “Is convinced that new multi-play packages… may soon be offered due to increased technological convergence, and at the same time observes that the emergence of those offers depends crucially on the availability of valuable spectrum…” 3. “Emphasizes that the digital dividend provides the European Union with unique opportunities to develop new services… and to remain a world leader in mobile multimedia technologies…” 4. “Calls on the Member States to develop, following a common methodology, national dividend strategies by the end of 2009…” 5. “Acknowledges the right of Member States to determine their use of the digital dividend, but also affirms that a coordinated approach at Community level greatly enhances the value of the dividend and is the most efficient way to avoid harmful interference between Member States…” 6. “Emphasizes that Member States may consider technology-neutral auctions for…allocating frequencies that are liberated because of the digital dividend and making those frequencies tradable… in full compliance with ITU radio regulations…” 7. “Supports a common, balanced approach to the use of digital dividend, allowing both broadcasters to continue offering and expanding their services and electronic communications operators to use this resource to deploy new services addressing other important social and economic uses, but stresses that… the digital dividend should be allocated on a technology-neutral basis.” 8. “Urges the Commission to undertake, in cooperation with the Member States, the appropriate technical, socio-economic and cost-benefit studies to determine the size and characteristics of the sub-bands that could be coordinated or harmonized at Community level…” The Commission’s legislative proposal is expected in 2009. It must be emphasized that the size of the digital dividend will vary from country to country due to geographical and cultural reasons. The following is an attempt to describe the situation on a country-by-country basis from Cullen International. Most EU countries will have completed the transition to all-digital broadcasting by 2012. Six of them have already decided the size of their digital dividend: Finland at 189MHz (for broadcasting and for “digital broadband mobile”); Sweden at 149MHz (for broadcasting and electronic communications); Czech Republic at 100 MHz (for broadcasting, mobile broadcasting and mobile services); Norway at 458MHz (for local radio, broadcasting and electronic communications); France at 72MHz (for audiovisual services mainly, and for mobile communications); and Great Britain at 123MHz (Ofcom has proposed a market-based, technology- and service-neutral approach to the award of the digital dividend, stating that the dividend is most suitable for mobile TV, mobile broadband and TV broadcasting, including HDTV). In Greece, the government announced that digital terrestrial television services could officially be launched on November 1, 2008. Services should be available nationwide and offer content from both the public service broadcaster ERT (Hellenic Radio and Television) and commercial broadcasters. As a next step, the government will invite commercial broadcasters to tender for digital television licenses. In addition, the Ministry of Transport and Communications and the Ministry for Media, with the help of a consultant, will produce a new frequency plan to allow for the introduction of digital television services. A draft was issued in summer 2008. The size and use of the digital dividend is currently being investigated. The Hellenic Telecommunications and Posts Commission (the telecommunications regulator in Greece) has commissioned a study to identify possible uses of any digital dividend in the country after the transition to all-digital broadcasting. Since January 2006, ERT (Hellenic Radio and Television) has tested digital television services on a trial basis in Athens, Thessaloniki and Thessaly and offered viewers access to its Prism, Cine+ and Sport+ services. The trial used the MPEG-2 compression format. On February 2009, at the conference organized by the Hellenic Telecommunications and Posts Commission on the Digital Dividend, we stressed the following points for the smooth transition to digital broadcasting and the best utilization of the digital dividend in Greece: • the right political decisions must be made now so that this “once in a generation” golden opportunity for spectrum redistribution is fully taken advantage of to transform the lives of the citizens of Greece; • the state must decide very soon how the digital dividend will be used to satisfy the ever-increasing need of the citizenry for coverage of mobile voice communications everywhere and for continuous uninterrupted access to the Internet, television programming and multimedia services; • decisions relative to the use of the digital dividend should be harmonized, to the extent possible, with those made by other Member States of the European Union; and • finally, decisions with regard to the allocation of the digital dividend should be based on five basic principles: 1. maximization of benefits to the citizenry 2. assurance of flexibility in the use of the digital dividend 3. establishment of a stable and predictable regulatory environment, which will trigger new investments and the creation of novel services 4. technological neutrality; and 5. harmonization, to the degree possible, with the rest of the European Union. Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, in addressing the ComReg Conference in Dublin on October 1, 2008, stated the following: “For me, the conclusion is clear: broadcasting must get an important share of the digital dividend so that it can develop new services, in particular High Definition TV and also interactive services and mobile TV. But it is also clear that we also need to reserve a large share of the dividend for other public interest services and for stimulating economic growth… “I have two suggestions to make: First, let us jointly choose a political figure for the distribution of the digital dividend. I propose a ‘fair play’ 50:50 rule. That is, half the dividend for the broadcasters and half the dividend for the new users. A bold step like this will show the world that we mean business. This is the only way we will cut the knot and make real progress. Second, let’s move ahead together on spectrum. Together Europe is strong, divided it will fail to reap the rewards of the digital dividend.