The airwaves – or radio spectrum – are a finite resource. Radio spectrum is used to carry mobile phone signals, radio, analogue television, freeview, satellite signals, radar and much, much more.
A large amount of this spectrum is currently used for analogue broadcasting of the five terrestrial television channels in the UK (BBC 1 and 2, ITV, Channels 4 and 5).
Digital broadcasting, like freeview, makes more efficient use of the radio spectrum. This means more channels can be broadcast in a smaller part of the spectrum.
The Government hopes that everyone will switch over to digital television by 2012. This will free up a lot of the old spectrum for new uses. This is called the ‘digital dividend’.
The European Parliament’s Industry Committee, of which I am a member, is currently considering some of the best ways of reusing this spectrum.
I spoke in Committee on Tuesday and said that I am keen to see at least part of this spectrum used to end the so called ‘digital divide’ whereby some people have excellent access to the internet and other people struggle to get connected. This is sometimes because they are in remote areas or in older buildings which are difficult to fit with the required cabling. This is particularly important for London where it’s difficult to wire-up many older tower blocks. Wireless broadband could certainly help.
Access to the internet is becoming so important in everyday life, for access to the media, for internet banking, email and access to government services. We must make sure that no one gets left behind without proper access to the net.