Why You Cannot Fit a Round Peg in a Square Hole: Path Dependence of Radio Spectrum Policy on Digital Dividend in Italy and the United Kingdom
Posted: 1 Apr 2014
Date Written: March 31, 2014
In response to the outcome of the World Radiocommunication Conference 2007 (WRC-07) to allocate the 800 MHz band for mobile service, Europe committed to structuring a harmonised regional plan on the digital dividend, promoting coordination in the management and use of radio spectrum across its member countries. Moreover, Europe is carrying out studies on future spectrum requirements, given the WRC-12 decision to expand the digital dividend to include the 700 MHz band, the so-called second digital dividend, which will be reserved for mobile broadband services by 2016.
Within the context of the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP), approved in 2012, EU member states agreed on clearing the 800 MHz band from television broadcasting services and making it available for mobile services by 1st January 2013. However, not only the RSPP didn’t receive a warm welcome by some EU countries, which showed to be quite sensitive to intrusion on a core area of national sovereignty, as that of radio spectrum policy, but some EU countries have actually approached the digital dividend issue in different ways. The patchy use of radio spectrum across EU member states seems to make it difficult to translate European requirements into national level to differing extents, according to the degree of consistency between Europe and member states, in terms of not only spectrum policy and management practices, but also broader institutional characteristics.
Since the mid-1990s, the mutual relationship between European and national institutions, within the so-called process of Europeanisation, have been object of extensive studies, which reveal considerable variation in the impact of the European-level formal and informal institutions on its member states’. Within the context of Europeanisation, the objective of this paper is to understand how and to what extent the domestic institutions of EU member states may prevent the process of EU harmonisation of spectrum use to be accomplished. A comparative study of two EU countries, Italy and the United Kingdom (UK), is conducted, mainly analysing official state and private documents. These two countries exhibit two different strategies towards the digital dividend issue, the former often in the EU spotlight because of its self-sufficient attitude and the latter being at the forefront in identifying and releasing frequencies to be used by services other than television broadcasting. By exploring the case of the digital dividend, this paper argues that the existence of differentiated patterns of national adjustment underlines the importance of an understanding of domestic structures for the European process of radio spectrum harmonisation. Cross-national variation in the mechanism through which European policies are embedded into domestic practices hinders the EU objective of a harmonised spectrum usage across EU member states. As it has been said for other policy areas, the impact of Europeanisation on member states is actually mediated by domestic institutions. For this reason, the ultimate aim of this paper is to raising awareness of the necessity to settle European radio spectrum policy-making processes taking into great account this mediating effect.
This paper proceeds in two steps. Firstly, an overview of the discussion on the process of Europeanisation is provided, focusing on the debate on the path dependence nature of public policy. Then, the comparative analysis begins with a discussion of the Italian case, followed by a discussion of the English case, and concludes with a number of comparative observations. Overall, the present pairing allows for an interesting and fresh discussion regarding the process of Europeanisation with a specific focus on radio spectrum policy.
Keywords: digital dividend, radio spectrum, The UK, Italy, Europeanisation
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