The European Commission has brought forward proposals to co-ordinate the release the 694-790MHz (700MHz) spectrum band in all Member States by 30 June 2020. The proposals will allow mobile broadband services to use this part of the spectrum band, which is currently used by digital terrestrial television services (DTT) in Ireland. The Commission's Digital Single Market Strategy highlights the importance of this band for ensuring the provision of broadband services in rural areas. The band is particularly attractive for wireless broadband services, allowing higher speeds and greater coverage over long distances.
A formal Decision has now been adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. The date of end June 2020 is the date adopted for completing the clearance of the band across the EU. The legal act will be signed by both institutions in mid-May 2017 and published in the EU Official Journal on 30 May. It will enter into force 20 days after its publication.
The move to the lower part of the UHF band by the DTT services that currently use the 700 MHz band will require a significant amount of work on the transmission network.
In consultation with ComReg and 2RN (formerly known as RTÉ Networks), the Department is working on a range of issues aimed at delivering a managed migration of broadcasting services from this band within the timeframe available. The aim in Ireland is to achieve the release of this spectrum in advance of the June 2020 date, in co-ordination with the UK.
In order to meet its international and EU obligations and to assist in the delivery of this project of common European interest, Ireland has entrusted RTÉ with the task of migrating its national digital terrestrial television services from the 700MHz band.
RTÉ has been entrusted with this service of general economic interest by way of Ministerial letter dated 15 December 2016.
The move from the 800MHz band (i.e. Digital Switch-Over) that took place in 2012 provided a number of clear benefits to terrestrial broadcasters. These included the introduction of digital technologies in place of the previous analogue systems and the ability to provide a greater number of channels and services. On that basis, it was seen as reasonable that relevant broadcasters, including RTÉ, should bear the financial burden involved in clearing the band and in establishing the replacement digital network.
Unlike the 2012 process, however, the benefits to be derived from the 700MHz migration will go primarily to wireless broadband operators, users of their services and to the State. There is no tangible benefit to the broadcasting operators or DTT viewing households from the forthcoming move.
In this regard, the Department has been working to establish a mechanism to provide compensation to RTÉ (as the public service multiplex operator) to cover the direct cost of migrating from the 700MHz band. This will allow costs which have been efficiently incurred in clearing the band to be compensated in line with relevant EU State Aid rules.
ComReg has engaged independent consultants, Frontier Economics, to carry out an analysis and assessment of the proposed costs of moving the DTT transmission network from the 700 MHz band. This process provided the necessary confirmation that the works proposed to be undertaken on the network are fully consistent with and strictly appropriate to the 700MHz migration project and that no works are included that fall outside the scope of this project. The report provides details of the methodology used by the consultants in undertaking this work and, also, the methodology that will be used in ensuring that no over-compensation is incurred as a result of this process.
The Frontier Economics Report and other relevant documentation are available below.
ComReg has published an update on progress with the international co-ordination of Ireland’s DTT Spectrum Plan. Its website provides further information on agreements between ComReg and Ofcom (the UK regulatory authority), frequency co-ordination with France and an agreed frequency plan with the administrations of Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the UK. Further information is available on the ComReg website.