Battle breaks out over Czech frequency reallocation

Photo: romexico / freeimages

An angry war of words has broken out over government plans to pave the way for a new frequency for terrestrial tv broadcasters as part of moves to free up space for mobile data to be transmitted around the world. Satellite companies say the government move is a massive multi-billion crown giveaway with the country threatened by costly international arbitration proceedings.

Photo: romexico / freeimages
Full page adverts in the Czech national press over the last days have warned Czech citizens that they and the country stand to be the victims of a new telecommunications law being prepared by the government.

The ads warn that citizens will have to fork out up to 5.0 billion crowns buying new television sets and set top boxes. In addition, the new frequencies that will be handed over free of charge to the biggest Czech private frequency provider, České Radiokomunikace, and a smaller provider until 2030 could have a commercial value of around 11 billion crowns if they were auctioned off.

The ads were paid for by the Czech Association for Satellite Operators with a view to the third and final reading in the lower house of parliament on Wednesday of a new telecommunications law, part of which is aimed at freeing up the 700 MHz band.

Patrik Brom is secretary of the association:

ʺWhat we are saying is that this is basically illegal state aid and the benefits that the government is going to provide to these two companies are discriminatory and they are breaching European competition laws and as a result they are damaging us, satellite operators. But it is not only us but also other alternative operators like cable tv or ITTV operators."

Brom says the association is already communicating with Brussels about its worries but is also ready to launch an international court case against the Czech government if need be.

The frequency band in question is now mainly used now for tv broadcasting, and described by the European Commission as a ‘sweet spot’ for wide coverage and high speeds. It is being reallocated with a view to an expected eight-fold increase in mobile internet traffic by 2020. That should be the focus for the so-called 5 G high capacity digital market. Spectrum a bit lower down will be reserved to television broadcasts.

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The European Commission is coordinating the transfer and wants national plans for how it will be conducted submitted by the end of June.

The campaign by the satellite companies has been denounced as misleading and full of lies by the Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, and the ministry of industry, which is responsible for the proposed new law. They say the frequency reallocation is a win, win situation for everyone and accuse the satellite companies of trying to tilt the competitive environment in their favour.

The ministry adds that its plans mean that most of the Czech population, including those in at risk areas such as South and West Bohemia, will be guaranteed access to terrestrial television in the future.