A competition for providers of communication services via satellite across Europe was launched last week by the European Commission. European officials say satellite operators will, for the first time, be able to offer services such as high-speed data, mobile TV, disaster relief and remote medical services under a single European selection procedure, instead of under 27 different national systems. Reportedly, this is made possible by a new EU decision on mobile satellite services that entered into force in July.
Mobile satellite systems use radio spectrum to provide services between a mobile earth station and one or more stations either in space or on the ground at fixed locations. They have the capability to cover a large territory and reach areas where such services were economically unviable before. The new European selection procedure could allow companies to offer innovative wireless services throughout Europe over a specifically reserved spectrum as of 2009.
The satellite industry is a â‚¬77 billion market worldwide, growing at 16 percent in 2007. Of this, satellite services alone generated approximately â‚¬38b. in global revenue.
European companies represent an important force on this market: the European space industry holds 40% of world markets for manufacturing, launching and operating satellites. Furthermore, Europe is home to three of the five largest satellite-system operators in the world.
The competition among satellite operators launched last week by the Commission is a first, as it takes place under a single European selection procedure. Until now, in spite of the clear cross-border dimension of satellite services, existing national rules obstructed the creation of a single market for mobile satellite services by leaving the selection of operators to each member state. The result was a divergence in national approaches that created a patchwork of procedures, legal uncertainty and a substantial competitive disadvantage for the satellite industry in Europe.
To remove these obstacles, the Commission proposed last August, on the basis of its single-market competences, a new EU decision under which a single selection procedure for mobile satellite services can be organized at European level. This decision was adopted by the European Parliament and the European Council; it entered into force on July 5. It establishes common EU rules for the use of the 2 Ghz bands by mobile satellite services.
European officials hope this will not only simplify and speed up licensing procedures for operators (encouraging investment and the roll out of mobile satellite services), but at the same time make sure these services cover at least 60% of the EU's territory - an important step toward gradually achieving coverage of all EU member states.
Interested companies have until October 7 to present their applications to the Commission. During the first phase of the selection process, technical and commercial ability of the candidates to launch their systems in time will be assessed. The criteria in the second selection phase include, among other things: the speed at which all member states will be covered; the range of services, including in rural areas; and the number of end-users to be served and the capacity of the system to fulfill public-policy objectives and spectrum efficiency.
All member states must ensure that selected candidates have the right to operate in their country. Depending on the number of candidates, the Commission expects that the selection procedure can be completed in the first part of 2009. First satellite launches could take place in 2009.
In this framework the EU's Information Society added in its communication that the number 112 is designed to enable anyone to call emergency services from anywhere in the European Union. The Information Society said there is was need to remember different emergency numbers when traveling in the EU; all you need is 112.
Following a European initiative from 1991, this single European emergency number is now available in all but one EU member state. The remaining one, Bulgaria, has reportedly started taking steps to introduce 112. In some member states, 112 has become the main emergency number. However, in most member states it still operates alongside other national numbers.
Reportedly, member states must ensure that 112 can be called free of charge from any fixed or mobile telephone, including public pay phones. In addition, it requires that 112 calls be appropriately answered and handled. Member states must also make sure that telecommunications operators provide emergency services with the location data of people calling 112.
Lastly, all EU countries are required to inform citizens, whether national or visitors, about the existence of 112. A recent EU survey found that a large majority of EU citizens are still unaware that the European emergency number 112 can be used across the EU in case of emergency.
The Commission has recently proposed to further strengthen EU telecoms rules for 112 and, among other, improving access to 112 for people with disabilities.
Ari Syrquin is the head of the GSCB Law Firm International Department.
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