Consultation. Why Bother?

The European Commission is an influential body; the telecoms commissioner, Viviane Reding, especially so. It’s been her comments that have driven down roaming costs by threats of direct intervention into the market. So there’s no doubt that what she says, with the mandate of the European Commission, is hugely influential.

That makes her recent comments at CeBit remarkable.

Commissioner Reding thought it important that Europe standardise on a single technology for mobile television, and she was in no doubt that DVB-H was that standard. She said she could mandate a standard, but didn’t want to. Well, what on earth does that mean? That sounds like a remarkably heavy threat to me.

I don’t think WorldDMB’s response was quite the tone I would have expected; a bit too whiny, indignant and finger pointing.

The reason that Commissioner Reding’s comment/directive was so incredible is that she herself requested the formation of the European Mobile Broadcast Council (EMBC), who’s objective was to recommend whether mobile TV required standardisation, and if so, what that standard ought to be.

I’ve been part of the EMBC. I’ve flown to various meetings around Europe, sat in rooms full of people representing companies from all 27 EU states. My role was to represent radio – yes, hello, little old radio. The original “Mobile Broadcast” service. Not many of us radio people were there, and it’s a credit to GCap Media that we have the breadth of vision to engage with this kind of thing. Anyway, it was almost fun being the irritant in a room full of breathless, almost desperate, executives trying to claw their mobile TV services into something that had a prospect of profit. (And, incidentally, brazenly trying to steal spectrum from radio services).

I’ve been on mailing lists where documents have circulated and been commented on for 18 hours a day since last Autumn. I’ve seen emails which frankly are a total discredit to their authors and their companies. If I was a senior manager at those companies, I’d be concerned if any of them got a wider audience. Every single word has been analysed, discussed, debated, argued about, changed, reverted. I’ve seen documents that have pushed MS Word’s “track revisions” to the very limit.

And do you know what? The EMBC’s recommendation was very clear, and unanimously accepted. The EU Commission should not intefere with this market. It should not try and “steal” spectrum to make DVB-H happen, in the same way it wouldn’t do so to give DMB, DRM or anything else a legup. Mobile operators want the freedom to do it their way and let the market decide.

So why did so many of us, and our companies, invest so much time and money and effort into the EMBC to have it’s recommendations utterly ignored by Commissioner Reding? Is this the evidence of a bankrupt, pliable, European Commission that is merely a comfortable gravy train for those on it?

If Mme. Reding feels DVB-H is “the winner”, she’s badly informed. It’s entirely possible that her mis-information has come from a single source. But more pertinently than that, why should anyone participate in any further “consultation” requested by Mme. Reding if she so obviously ignores the contributions of many informed people, and goes with those whispered cosily in her ear?

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