By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission is to propose that telecom spectrum licenses are granted for a minimum of 25 years to increase investment certainty for operators, under a reform of the bloc's telecoms rules, according to an EU document seen by Reuters.
The European Union executive will publish its proposal next month and expects it to be endorsed in 2018. However, as it will need to be approved by member states and the European Parliament before becoming law, it may yet be revised as EU states could resist the plan.
The European Commission has sought for years to coordinate how national governments allocate blocks of airwaves to mobile operators such as Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and EE in a bid to create a single European telecoms market. Telecoms operators have also long called for more EU coordination of spectrum policy.
But national authorities are loath to relinquish control over how they auction wireless spectrum, which they consider a national resource, and license durations vary across Europe, making it harder for companies to operate on a larger scale. Spectrum auctions can fetch billions of euros.
Under the Commission's plan, licenses would last at least 25 years and the Commission would have the power to adopt binding guidance on some conditions of the assignment process, such as the deadlines for spectrum allocation and spectrum sharing.
Member states would also be able to jointly organize spectrum auctions to award multi-country or pan-EU licenses, although this would be voluntary.
"Long-term license durations of at least 25 years proposed in this option will increase stability and certainty of investments as well as innovation requirements," the document says.
Telecoms operators see a coordinated EU policy as a way to put Europe at the forefront of the drive to roll out the next generation of mobile broadband, 5G, which will underpin innovative services such as driverless cars, remote healthcare and connecting billions of everyday objects to the Internet.
"Longer spectrum licenses and harmonization send a pro-investment signal to boardrooms and investors across Europe," a telecoms industry source said.
The Commission also wants to establish a peer review mechanism to review national regulators' draft measures on spectrum allocation.
"This mechanism would foster common interpretation and implementation across the EU of those elements of spectrum assignment which most impact business decisions and network deployment," the document says.
The EU executive has made a priority of fostering the early development of 5G mobile technology in Europe, and estimates that 5G will bring 146.5 billion euros ($164 bln) per year in benefits.
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Susan Fenton)