EU Commissioner Viviane Reding: digital radio in Europe

Interview from the latest issue of Germany’s Meinungsbarometer Digitaler Rundfunk magazine:

Equipment manufacturers and broadcasters must promote standardisation

In light of the national debate about digital radio [in Germany], EU Commissioner for Information & Media, Viviane Reding, in an interview with Meinungsbarometer Digital Broadcasting, has called for receiver manufacturers and content providers to implement compatible standards. This would ensure that, in most EU Member States, the family of DAB standards are either already being used or would be introduced. If the trend towards hybrid media devices continues, the EU Commissioner believes there is no need for statutory regulation.

Ms Reding, millions of European motorists make cross-border journeys and are subject to various digital terrestrial radio standards. What is the EU doing to achieve a unified standard for digital terrestrial radio in Europe?

This issue of EU-wide radio standardisation is still in its infancy. The main reason is that radio, from a political, business and consumer standpoint, is organised primarily as a regional or even local product. This is, in principle, rightly so. The reason the radio landscape in Europe is so fascinating is because it is so diverse and highly innovative. Therefore, EU-wide radio legislation is not advocated.

Standardisation, however, is still an issue during the transition to digital radio reception. The market is making considerable progress on this question. Currently, the DAB standard is the most widely used digital terrestrial radio technology in the Member States of the EU. DAB is already used in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the UK. Malta is already using the newer DAB+ standard, and its implementation is currently also being considered in Germany. Later this year, France and the Netherlands want to test another new standard, DMB, for digital terrestrial radio broadcasting.

I hope that, in the interest of tourists and cross-border travellers, that device manufacturers and content providers here will soon agree with each other to use a standard or at least open, compatible standards. I therefore welcome the fact that device manufacturers are increasingly coming to market with products, at little additional cost, that can process several standards and codecs. If this positive development continues, a statutory standardisation will certainly not be necessary.

In Germany, there are moves to postpone the 2015 date for the planned closure of FM. How do you see this situation developing in other European countries?

I believe the time is not ripe for a single EU-wide radio FM switchoff, such as we are doing for analogue TV in 2012. I can also well imagine that the 27 EU Member States, given their different levels of development, will want to take their own innovative approaches to digital radio switchover. Therefore, it is important from the perspective of the EU that the Member States take into account in their plans what their neighbours – and beyond – have done and learn from others’ good and less good experiences. The European Commission is strongly promoting these individual views and experiences at a European level.

As for financing the construction of the infrastructure for new digital terrestrial audio broadcasting: can you envisage the Digital Dividend being used?

The digital dividend is defined as the spectrum freed by the shutdown of analogue broadcasting once all programmes are only broadcast digitally. The term “digital dividend” is therefore not a direct means with which one can finance digital radio networks, as it only creates efficiency gains through technical progress. The digital dividend in the medium of terrestrial radio is significantly lower than in terrestrial television where, through appropriate co-ordination at the European level, the potential economic benefits of the digital dividend between 2009 and 2015 will create an additional 20 to 50 billion Euros. With terrestrial radio, however, the digital dividend could be higher, depending on the performance of digital transmission standards that are replacing analogue FM. In my view, this is the strongest incentive for a shift to digital terrestrial radio broadcasting.