White Spaces: Minister for Communications answers PQ

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To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in view of the fact that the digital switch over/analogue switch off is complete, his plan for reuse of what are known as white spaces in the broadcast spectrum in and around the new digital transmission and across the part of the spectrum used previously by analogue; and if he will ensure that the spectrum is put to best use for citizens and not sold off to private telecommunications companies in long licences..

– Clare Daly.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

(Mr P Rabbitte) 
The management of the radio spectrum is a statutory function of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) under the Communications Regulation Act 2002, as amended.  ComReg is, of course, independent in the exercise of this spectrum management function. 

As you may be aware ComReg recently completed a multiband spectrum auction process and awarded spectrum rights in the former 800, 900 and 1800 MHz bands.  In the run up to the auction and in accordance with its statutory functions, ComReg consulted extensively on its proposals for the release of spectrum rights of use in these bands.  This award process marks a vital step in allowing for the next generation of advance mobile services to be made available for Irish consumers and businesses from next year.  It was also an extremely good outcome for the Exchequer and the taxpayer with €855m being paid for the spectrum of which over €450m will accrue in 2012. 

The analogue television network was switched off on 24th October 2012, and the replacement Digital TV service (DTT) Saorview is operating from over 60 transmission sites which provide coverage to over 98% of the population. In common with the analogue televisions service before it, DTT does not use all of the available UHF spectrum which is standardised for use by television receiving equipment.  The unused spectrum blocks interleaved between the DTT transmissions are known as “white spaces”. 

The future development of DTT and the surrounding white spaces needs further consideration both at a national level as well as at an EU level. Significant research on future possible uses of white spaces and potential equipment has been undertaken within Ireland.    It is my objective that any further release of spectrum will be done in a way that maximises the economic value of the spectrum whilst ensuring value for money for the taxpayer.