Europese Commissie onderzoekt Italiaanse staatssteun aan digitale decoders voor tv's (en)

woensdag 21 december 2005

The European Commission has launched an in-depth investigation under EC Treaty state aid rules into subsidies for digital decoders granted by Italy in 2004 and 2005. The measures provide public grants to buyers of decoders which receive programmes in digital terrestrial technology.

The subsidy is not technology-neutral because although it is also offered for decoders using cable technology, it is not available for decoders using satellite broadcasting. The Commission's investigation will aim at establishing whether these incentives are liable to distort competition. EC Treaty state aid rules require Member States not to grant aids or subsidies which distort or threaten to distort competition within the EU's Single Market.

The Commission's decision to investigate will shortly be published in the EU's Official Journal and interested parties will be able to comment. The Commission will then take a final decision on the compatibility of the measure with the state aid rules. The launch of the inquiry does not prejudge the Commission's final decision.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: "The Commission is firmly committed to encouraging the transition to digital TV and values interoperability, but state support must avoid unnecessary distortions of competition between terrestrial, cable and satellite platforms. In this case the subsidy seems to help free to air operators to enter the pay-TV market".

In 2004 and 2005 Italy paid out grants to consumers worth over €200 million in order to buy or rent digital decoders, without notifying the measure to the Commission. The subsidy is provided for interactive decoders capable of receiving programmes in digital terrestrial technology or the same programmes retransmitted via cable.

The Commission received two complaints from terrestrial and satellite television operators. Even if the direct beneficiaries of the grant are final consumers, the measure may constitute an indirect advantage to the current terrestrial television broadcasters and to the terrestrial network operators. The measure seems to favour incumbent terrestrial operators.

In line with the analysis of subsidy for digital terrestrial TV in Berlin-Brandenburg (see IP/05/1394), the Commission recognises that state intervention can be beneficial in the process of switchover to digital technology, but it has to be shown that aid is the most appropriate instrument, it is limited to the minimum necessary and it does not unduly distort competition.

In March 2005 the Commission approved various forms of public intervention in support of digital terrestrial TV in Austria: aid to pilot projects and research; subsidies for the purchase of set-top boxes of any platform to prevent the exclusion of low-income households from access to TV reception; grants to companies to develop innovative digital services and subsidies to broadcasters to compensate for additional transmission costs when broadcasting analogue and digital TV in parallel ("simulcast phase"). These measures were approved because they respected the principles of transparency, necessity, proportionality and technological neutrality.

At the present stage of the analysis, the Commission is not convinced that subsidies to decoders in Italy meet these standards and can be deemed compatible with state aid rules.

This procedure only concerns the measures enacted in 2004 and 2005. Italy's plans for a modified version of the subsidies for 2006 would have to be notified to the Commission and assessed separately.