RTR: Convergent kick-off event for discussion of digital dividend

Press release dated 28 January 2009

On Tuesday, RTR's Digital Platform Austria work group hosted some 160 participants – including broadcasters, telecommunications and infrastructure operators as well as representatives of government authorities, the scientific community and the business world – at the Ares Tower in Vienna for a "convergent" event entitled "The digital dividend".

Alfred Grinschgl, Managing Director of RTR's Broadcasting Division, noted in his opening speech that the time has come to discuss the digital dividend in Austria, especially in light of the fact that more than half of all households in the country can now receive digital television signals. Grinschgl described the digital dividend as the additional spectrum which can now be allocated over and above those channels and data which were previously disseminated by analog means. The deployment of unused broadcasting frequencies could therefore be used for purposes such as additional television channels, the transmission of mobile television channels as well as the improvement of broadband coverage.

The ensuing introductory statement was made by Georg Lienbacher, Head of the Constitutional Service Division at the Austrian Federal Chancellery. He began by thanking all of the people in attendance for the rapid and exemplary establishment of digital terrestrial television in Austria, after which he spoke out in favor of a pragmatic approach to dealing with digital dividend frequencies in Austria.

The keynote speech was given by Hans Hege, Director of the State Media Authority of Berlin-Brandenburg, who indicated that as a regulator he also agreed with the Digital Platform Austria and his Austrian colleagues: It is crucial to use the opportunities arising from digital technologies in the interest of the consumer and to set new developments in motion. According to Hege, the main challenge for regulatory authorities is to provide development opportunities for classic broadcasting networks as well as broadband Internet, at the same time ensuring flexibility in order to ensure that consumer demand is able to determine actual developments. Hege noted that the role of the Internet is growing, but it is also important to remember that broadcasting networks will still be required for a long time to come.

Representing the Department of Media and Information Society Affairs at the Austrian Federal Chancellery, Michael Truppe then reported on the current state of the discussion in Brussels. He first described the market-oriented approach to frequency policy expressed in the various communications of the European Commission between 2005 and 2007; this approach has been countered by the European Council's emphasis on the additional social and media policy dimensions of the digital dividend. From the Commission's point of view, possible applications include wireless broadband communication, additional terrestrial broadcasting services and multimedia mobile communications services. One especially heavily disputed topic is the harmonization powers of the Commission. A study to be released in the summer will form the basis for further discussions.

Franz Prull, Deputy Head of the Austrian Communications Authority (KommAustria), who himself took part in the Regional Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva in 2006, spoke about the requirements and planning fundamentals as well as the characteristics of digital terrestrial television (DVB-T). The frequency range to become available for the digital dividend was chosen because the uppermost television frequency channels, specifically the bands for channels 61 to 69, are very close to the GSM range, and because that range will become available after the termination of its military usage to date.

Representing Division III (Telecommunications and Frequency Management) of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT), Franz Ziegelwanger gave a talk on developments concerning the digital dividend after the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2007. Having attended the conference himself, Ziegelwanger informed the audience that television channels 61 to 69 are to be allocated on a co-primary basis to broadcasting and mobile radiocommunication services from June 17, 2015 onward. In his summary, he noted that the 790 to 862 MHz band in Austria was a potential candidate for harmonized frequency usage by mobile radiocommunication services.

The ensuing specialist presentations were moderated by Georg Serentschy, Managing Director of RTR's Telecommunications Division, who spoke of the event as a prelude to a broad-based discussion of the digital dividend in Austria. In Serentschy's view, one important point is often neglected in this discussion, namely that services and their transmission tend to be decoupled in an Internet-based world. Serentschy regards this aspect as a source of new perspectives in the discussion.

The first presentation was given by Michael Wagenhofer, Managing Director of Österreichische Rundfunksender GmbH & Co KG (ORS), who argued that the digital dividend should be used to secure the future survival of public broadcasting and thus to enable the continued development of DVB-T. In particular, the technological shift to the next generation of DVB-T (DVB-T2) and the resulting need for (longer) simulcast operation as well as the further expansion of and transition to HDTV will require additional frequencies. According to Wagenhofer, this will enable new forms of usage and ensure additional programming diversity. In Wagenhofer's eyes, policymakers have to make a decision in this regard. Finally, Wagenhofer argued that it is important to account for the investments already made by broadcasting operators in the course of digitization.

Next, Iris Henseler-Unger, Vice President of Germany's Federal Network Agency (BNetzA), presented her perspective on the digital dividend. At the very outset, she highlighted the fact that the Federal Network Agency regards itself as a mediator between the various stakeholders and takes the interests of both sides seriously. As a positive example of this discussion, she repeatedly mentioned France, which has made greater progress with regard to this issue. At the same time, Henseler-Unger stressed the importance of expanding broadband coverage, especially in rural areas, and of providing the population with high-capacity broadband connections. In this context, she cited objectives from Germany's second economic stimulus package. In any case, the Federal Network Agency aims to ensure the efficient use of the frequencies released, to secure the further development of broadcasting and to promote the expansion of broadband coverage. However, Henseler-Unger noted that this can only be attained if it leads to a win-win situation on both sides.

In his presentation, Tobias Schmid, Head of the Media Policy Department at RTL, argued that both sides – broadcasting and telecommunications – should first sit down together and specify their market-specific and system-immanent requirements before they can even begin to develop arguments concerning reallocation. Only then will it be possible to have a discussion on how the frequencies should be used in the future. Schmid noted that private broadcasters have always supported a constructive discussion on the deployment of unused frequencies if the needs of broadcasters are first met completely and their development prospects secured, and if the precise purpose and circumstances for the use of this frequency spectrum are established. In line with Henseler-Unger's arguments, he also stated that the solution must be satisfactory to both sides and must account for the requirements of all interested parties. In this context, he noted that such a solution would not be possible without mutual concessions. Schmid referred to this as "finding a pragmatic 'corridor of compromise' between broadcasting and telecommunications".

The last presentation was given by Stephan Korehnke, Head of Regulatory Affairs at Vodafone D2 Germany. He also advocated a liberal allocation of released frequencies and once again emphasized the opportunities for growth and broadband coverage created by the digital dividend. According to Korehnke, if 25% of the UHF band were allocated to mobile communications, it would bring about economic gains of up to EUR 165 billion in the EU. In addition, the frequencies released would enable rapid broadband coverage of the rural population without requiring government subsidies. Korehnke also noted that it is difficult to overlook the fact that the Internet is creating new forms of marketing – and thus also new distribution channels for content providers. Finally, in a reference to the Federal Network Agency, Korehnke again highlighted the fact that national plans for the use of the digital dividend are urgently required in order to provide companies with a degree of certainty in planning and investment activities.

After the specialist presentations, the audience also had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion. Moderated by Georg Serentschy, this discussion further examined the possibilities created by the digital dividend as well as the pros and cons of allocating the frequencies to the field(s) of broadcasting and/or telecommunications. In the course of the discussion, it became clear that it will be necessary to deal with a broad range of topics in the coming weeks and months before the frequencies to be released can actually be put to use.

In his closing remarks, Michael Ogris, Head of KommAustria, thanked all of the speakers and concluded by saying that Austria is already using part of the digital dividend with its additional terrestrial television channels and the introduction of mobile terrestrial television (DVB-H). According to Ogris, it is necessary to survey the needs of all interested parties after this discussion in order to develop a sustainable strategy for Austria which accounts for the interests of both sides.

The presentations given at the event can be downloaded below (only available in German).