EC calls for 5G connectivity and cooperation

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The European Commission is taking further steps in the Digital Decade agenda to strengthen Europe’s digital sovereignty, as announced by President Ursula von der Leyen in her State of the Union address on September 16th.

The Commission has published a Recommendation calling Member States to boost investment in very high-capacity broadband connectivity infrastructure, including 5G, which is the most fundamental block of the digital transformation and an essential pillar of the recovery. The timely deployment of 5G networks will offer significant economic opportunities for the years to come, as a crucial asset for European competitiveness, sustainability and a major enabler for future digital services.

In parallel, and closely linked to this Recommendation, the Commission has proposed a new Regulation for the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking to maintain and advance Europe’s leading role in supercomputing technology to underpin the entire digital strategy and to ensure the Union’s competitiveness in the global setting.

“Broadband and 5G connectivity lay the foundation for the green and digital transformation of the economy, regardless if we talk about transport and energy, healthcare and education, or manufacturing and agriculture,” stated Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager. “And we have seen the current crisis highlight the importance of access to very high-speed Internet for businesses, public services and citizens, but also to accelerate the pace towards 5G. We must therefore work together towards fast network rollout without any further delays.”

“Digital infrastructures have proven to be crucial during the pandemic to help citizens, public services and businesses get through the crisis and yet recent investments have slowed down,” noted Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton. “At a time when access to broadband Internet represents both a fundamental commodity for Europeans and a geostrategic stake for companies, we must – together with Member States – enable and accelerate the rollout of secure fibre and 5G networks. Greater connectivity will not only contribute to creating jobs, boosting sustainable growth and modernising the European economy, it will help Europe building its resilience and achieve its technological autonomy.”

The Commission invites Member States to come together to develop, by March 30th 2021, a common approach, in the form of a toolbox of best practices, for the timely rollout of fixed and mobile very high-capacity networks, including 5G networks. Such measures should aim to:

  • Reduce the cost and increase the speed of deployment of very high capacity networks, notably by removing unnecessary administrative hurdles;
  • Provide timely access to 5G radio spectrum and encourage operators’ investments in expanding network infrastructure;
  • Establish more cross-border coordination for radio spectrum assignments, to support innovative 5G services, particularly in the industry and transport fields.

The Recommendation also sets out guidance for best practices to provide timely access to radio spectrum for 5G as well as ensure stronger coordination of spectrum assignment for 5G cross-border applications. This is particularly important to enable connected and automated mobility, as well as the digitisation of industry and smart factories. Enhanced cross-border coordination will help to provide Europe’s main transport paths, particularly road, rail and in-land waterways, with uninterrupted 5G coverage by 2025.

However, until mid-September 2020, Member States (and the UK) had assigned on average only 27.5 pe cent of the 5G pioneer bands. It is therefore essential that Member States avoid or minimise any delays in granting access to radio spectrum to ensure timely deployment of 5G.

The Recommendation also highlights the need to ensure that 5G networks are secure and resilient. Member States have worked together with the Commission and the EU Cybersecurity Agency (ENISA) on a respective toolbox of mitigating measures and plans, designed to address effectively major risks to 5G networks. In July, a progress report was published.

Sustainable network deployment for improved connectivity

  • The Recommendation also builds upon the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive. It promotes the rollout of high-speed networks by reducing deployment costs through harmonised measures to ensure network providers and operators can share infrastructure, coordinate civil works and obtain the necessary permits for deployment. The Recommendation is calling on Member States to share and agree on best practices under this Directive, to:
  • Support simpler and more transparent permit-granting procedures for civil works;
  • Improve transparency on existing physical infrastructure, so that operators can access more easily all relevant information on the infrastructure available in a certain area, and facilitate permit-granting procedures, through a single information point in the administration of public authorities;
  • Expand network operators’ rights to access existing infrastructure controlled by public sector bodies (i.e. buildings, street lamps and those belonging to energy and other utilities) to install elements for network deployment;
  • Improve the effectiveness of the dispute resolution mechanism related to infrastructure access.

Improved connectivity can also minimise the climate impact of data transmission and thus contribute to achieving the Union’s climate targets. Member States are encouraged to develop criteria for assessing the environmental impact of future networks and provide incentives to operators to deploy environmentally sustainable networks.

Next steps

The Recommendation calls for Member States to identify and share best practices for the Toolbox by December 20th 2020. The Member States should agree on the list of best practices by March 30th 2021.

As announced in its strategy, Shaping Europe’s digital future in February 2020, the Commission plans two further actions in this area:

  • The update of its action plan on 5G and 6G in 2021. The updated plan will rely and expand on the spectrum-related actions in this Recommendation. It will look at the progress made so far, and set new, ambitious goals for 5G network roll-out.
  • The revision of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive. The next steps in this process are the launch of an open consultation in autumn 2020 and of a dedicated study to evaluate the current Directive and assess the impact of several policy options.

 


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