Telecoms and 15 members of the European Union have once again found themselves at odds over the length of wireless spectrum licenses. Industry leaders are seeking to unify the EU's wireless market through proposals to increase the length of wireless spectrum licenses to a minimum of 25 years, i.e. extend the current minimum requirement by 10 to 15 years. Many of the national governments involved, however, are not keen on giving over any semblance of control over licensing their spectrum. A document signed by 15 EU members – the United Kingdom, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the Czech Republic – expresses concerns that an increase in the minimum length of the licenses could seriously hamper innovation if the lifecycle of a given technology is outlived by the length of related licenses. Countermeasures contained within the proposal are too dependent on the good will of service providers, the document states, adding that the legal groundwork is not in place to handle the litigation process of "withdrawing" a license from a provider. Finally, the paper calls out any long-term fixed licensing as being too inflexible in a market that sees significant changes frequently.
The European Commission and the industry leaders have their own reasons for wanting to consolidate the market across Europe, as they claim that the upcoming 5G technologies require a more long-term approach to spectrum management, as well as a "pro-investment" approach to regulations. From the telecoms' point of view, the lease terms currently differ too greatly from country to country, making large-scale growth such as that required to implement 5G across Europe a difficult task. While the first part of the European Commission's recent proposal deals with the length of licenses, they have also introduced a proposal for a peer review of "draft measures on spectrum allocation." The member states disagree with that part of the proposal as well, citing issues related to heavy bureaucracy and over-reliance on ideals-based models.
The arguments being made by both sides here are not new by any means. The European Commission has tried to institute cross-border cooperative licensing measures for years in an attempt to unify the market across the EU's countries and make the continent more competitive on the world stage. While it doesn't seem that the disagreements are going to come to an end anytime soon, an update on the situation should follow shortly.