Radio Spectrum Regulation in the European Union A three-level context

Detta är en avhandling från Chalmers University of Technology

Sammanfattning: In the light of the unprecedented growth of mobile broadband services, radio spectrum regulation is undergoing a substantial review in the European Union (EU). The radio spectrum presents a three-level regulatory context. At international level, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) regulates the allocation of radio spectrum. At regional level, the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) promotes cooperation and coordination between European countries. At national level, National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) are responsible for assigning the radio spectrum. In addition, the EU has also the power to regulate the radio spectrum. The EU regulatory framework for radio spectrum has only recently been set up. Therefore, an exhaustive understanding of the role of the EU in the three-level regulatory context of radio spectrum is still lacking.

Against this background, the purpose of this thesis is to shed light on the implications of the EU regulatory framework for radio spectrum. In other words, this thesis aims to address the following research question: how does the EU influence the three-level regulatory context of radio spectrum? In order to answer this research question, three academic papers are written, each focusing on the role of the EU in one regulatory level. Paper 1 focuses on the international level. Theories of international relations are employed to assess the effectiveness of the EU in influencing international negotiations on radio spectrum regulation. Paper 2 explores the regional level. Theories of EU integration provide the tools to understand the issue of competence distribution between EU and EU member states in the policy field of radio spectrum. Paper 3 deals with the national level. Theories on the regulation-innovation relation guide the assessment of a specific national regulatory regime, which has been particularly promoted by the EU. Although radio spectrum assignment is a national responsibility, the EU may indirectly impact on the national context by providing EU member states with ideas on innovative regulatory tools.

A qualitative research strategy is adopted to conduct the research work described in this thesis. In particular, this research work is characterised by an iterative inductive-deductive process between theory and empirical data, whereby purpose, theoretical framework and data collected progressively and mutually shape one another. This thesis is mainly based on secondary data, retrieved from official documents, reports, news articles, academic papers and books. Backward and forward snowballing techniques are used to systematically find relevant secondary sources of data.

This thesis concludes that the EU regulatory framework influences the three regulatory levels of radio spectrum to different extents. Firstly, the EU influences the international level thanks to the presence of the European Commission (EC) in international fora. The EC has the right to attend international negotiations on radio spectrum regulation and can oversee the actions of EU member states. Secondly, the EU impacts on the regional level by promoting harmonised availability of radio spectrum across the EU. To this objective, the EU adopts policy instruments which are legally binding for all EU member states. Furthermore, the EC cooperates with the CEPT in order to build consensus across the EU. Thirdly, the EU’s influence on the national regulatory level is confined to general regulatory principles for radio spectrum assignment. Nevertheless, the EU can still leverage on national regulation, by encouraging EU member states to adopt specific regulatory instruments.

Although interesting implications of the EU regulatory framework for radio spectrum are ascertained in this thesis, the influence of the EU on the three-level regulatory context of radio spectrum has not been captured thoroughly. Future research in the form of a more systematic evaluation of the EU’s actorness (Bretherton & Vogler, 2006) is necessary to capture the relevance of the EU’s influence on both the international and regional regulatory levels. In addition, a detailed analysis of the issue of competence distribution between EU and EU member states is critical for better evaluating the extent to which the EU influences radio spectrum regulation at national level.