Patrick S. Ryan


Any discussion of European policies is a complicated one, in part because the word "Europe" means different things to different people. At the present time, the European Union has expanded to twenty-five countries and more countries may become provisional members within the next years. These countries represent a multitude of cultures, languages, and legal traditions so talking about a "European" approach to a given matter is to risk making inherently flawed generalizations about diverse peoples, cultures, and systems. However, one generalization is rather safe to assert: the traditional regulatory model in Europe has been based on a state-run monopoly structure that has concretely changed only within the past ten years while private ownership of telecommunications networks is a very new concept, as is the growth and consolidation of equipment providers. The article starts with covering aspects of developing laws within the European Union, as well as discusses member countries' attempts to coordinate their regulatory efforts in a relentless move away from telecommunications monopolies and towards free markets. This concept of spectrum management at the European Union level has begun only recently because frequencies have traditionally been allocated, allotted, and assigned by the individual states. It then provides an overview of the important technology-related actions taken by the European Union in past years, including the implementation of technology promotion programs such as the RACE program and the passage of the "new framework" for telecommunications and its associated Radio Spectrum Decision. By analyzing past actions and based on the success of European lawmaking in spite of distance, language and cultural differences as well as the radical change of telecommunications management from a process of coordination among government telecommunication ministries to a more complicated consensus-building procedure among private industries the author predicts that the trends toward the continued privatization of telecommunications and the transfer of responsibility from the public to the private realm will become stronger in the future, especially since a strong communications framework is not only a matter of importance to the public, but it is also critical to the European Union's ability to function smoothly as an economic community.