The European Union wants to reduce the so-called digital divide by making broadband services more accessible in rural areas. One way of doing this is the release of a frequency band currently used for digital terrestrial television. The rules were negotiated by an EU decision adopted unanimously in May 2017.

However, the introduction of the new 5G mobile standard can be delayed beyond the planned timetable. By June 2020, all EU Member States must have cleared the 694-790 MHz frequency band (“700 MHz”) so that they can be used for mobile communications.

Those services that currently occupying the 700 MHz frequency band must be transferred to a different frequency. According to the Commission, migration is necessary so that the EU can successfully launch a much faster 5G mobile network.

However, the deadline for 2020 is not fully mandatory, as Member States which have “good reasons” may request two-year delay. There are already indications that some EU countries are preparing to take the necessary preparatory measures for extension.

Last month, the European Commission sent Belgium the so-called “letter of formal notice” for non-compliance with the interim deadline. According to the 2017 decision, each Member State was obliged to conclude cross-border frequency coordination arrangements with its neighbours. The Commission stated that Belgium has not yet signed such agreements with Germany and the United Kingdom “and therefore does not comply with the 700 MHz decision-making obligations”.

“The deadline for adoption of these agreements was at the end of 2017”, the Commission stated in a press release.

“As a consequence, the development of 5G can be delayed in Belgium and in the surrounding countries,” EC added.

The letter of formal notice is part of the EU infringement procedure which can be concluded at the EU Court of Justice.

However, another period of the 700 MHz decision was also omitted from some Member States. EU rules state that MS must publish a national road map for 700 MHz “as soon as possible and no later than 30 June 2018”. Several countries have already missed this deadline. Latvia is one of them.

On 5 June, only 12 of the 28 EU Member States agreed on their national roadmap, according to the latest progress report of the Radio Spectrum Policy Group. The EU countries are asked to provide a copy of their national road map by 31 August. The omission of the June deadline is quite uncomfortable given that this was already beyond the initially proposed deadline.