December 4, 2006 9:38 AM PST

EU regulator: Let consumers pick telecom standards

HONG KONG--The European Union's telecommunications watchdog has called for regulators to take a backseat in setting standards--and allow consumers to take the lead by picking the platform that offers the services they want.

Viviane Reding Viviane Reding

Speaking on Monday here at the ITU Telecom World 2006 conference, Viviane Reding, the EU's commissioner for information society and media, said regulators should no longer be the main force in charge of mandating standards.

"We know the choice of the wrong standard could lock our economies into a long period of underperformance," Reding said.

"I think it should be left to businesses to find the business models that attract consumers to opt for the services they like (most)," she added. "The GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) standard was a landmark decision...today, the picture is more complex. For governments to make a viable case for choosing any standard is much more difficult."

According to the commissioner, though, regulators still have their part to play in standards adoption, including implementing a legal system that prevents so-called patent ambushes.

Reding also called for change in the way regulators deal with wireless-spectrum allocation. "We have to make fundamental changes, and we have to make it now to get the benefit of the digital dividend (of the end of analog TV)," she told delegates.

Reding said the spectrum freed up by the switch to digital TV will offer a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" for expanded wireless services, adding that regulators must be flexible and "get out of the command-and-control system."

The proposed uses for the vacated spectrum include housing mobile broadcast TV such as DVB-H (digital-video broadcasting) and the implementation of wireless-broadband technologies such as WiMax.

In order for WiMax to take off, though, a new degree of flexibility must be introduced to regulation, according to Reding. "We are a long way off this, however...the barriers are bureaucratic, not technical. It is governments' duty to get it right."

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from Hong Kong.

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