EU wants more spectrum for mobile firms by 2013

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission plans to ask EU countries to free up valuable broadband spectrum to mobile operators by 2013 in a bid to spur consumer demand, according to a Commission document seen by Reuters on Friday.

The proposal, which will be unveiled by Neelie Kroes, the EU commissioner in charge of the bloc’s digital agenda, on Monday, comes amidst efforts by the Commission to boost cross-border trade and investment and create jobs.

Kroes aims to set a January 1, 2013 deadline for EU countries to open up the 800 MHz spectrum and will only allow derogations until 2015 in exceptional cases, the document said, calling it a top priority. Broadcasters currently use this spectrum.

Mobile broadband allows users to talk on the phone and surf the Web at the same time.

Kroes’ proposal for a five-year programme will need to be cleared by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

Germany, which wants more spectrum for rural areas, conducted its largest airwaves auction in May and sold 41 new frequency blocks, making it the only EU country so far to make the broadcast spectrum available for mobile broadband.

Kroes will also announce plans together with the European Investment Bank to bring forward broadband finance instruments which will be unveiled by next spring. The EIB lends an average of 2 billion euros (1.7 billion pounds) annually for broadband projects.

Services, which use radio spectrum in the 27-country European Union, accounted for 2 to 2.5 percent of the bloc’s annual gross domestic product or more than 250 billion euros, according to an EU study.

($1=.7641 Euro)

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter