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EC unveils Gigabit connectivity initiatives

February 24, 2023

By Colin Mann

The European Commission has presented a set of actions aimed to make Gigabit connectivity available to all citizens and businesses across the EU by 2030, in line with the objectives of Europe’s Digital Decade, and to enable the transformation of the connectivity sector in the EU.

The initiatives on Connectivity consist of:

  • First, the Commission has adopted a proposal for a ‘Gigabit Infrastructure Act’, a regulation that will put forward new rules to enable faster, cheaper and more effective rollout of Gigabit networks across the EU.
  • Second, it has published a draft Gigabit Recommendation, which seeks to provide guidance to National Regulatory Authorities on the conditions of access to telecom networks of operators with significant market power, in order to incentivise faster switch-off of legacy technologies and accelerated Gigabit networks deployment.
  • Third, the Commission has launched an exploratory consultation on the future of the connectivity sector and its infrastructure, to gather views on how increasing demands for connectivity and technological advances may affect the future developments and needs.

Gigabit Infrastructure Act

Given the increasing uptake of advanced digital technologies, there is an urgent need for more bandwidth at faster speeds to enable smarter, more flexible and more innovative services for citizens, businesses and key public sectors, powered by the development and use of technologies, such as cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), data spaces, virtual reality and the metaverse and in which European citizens enjoy their digital rights. In this context, the Gigabit Infrastructure Act responds to the growing demand for faster, more reliable, data-intense connectivity. It will replace the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive (2014).

The Gigabit Infrastructure Act aims to overcome the challenge of slow and costly deployment of the underlying physical infrastructure sustaining advanced Gigabit networks. It will reduce ‘red tape’ and the costs and administrative burden associated with the deployment of Gigabit networks. Among others, it will simplify and digitalise permitting procedures. The new regulation will also enhance the coordination of civil works between network operators to deploy the underlying physical infrastructure, such as ducts and masts, and ensure that the relevant actors obtain access to it. Such works represent up to 70 per cent of the costs of network deployment. Moreover, all new or majorly renovated buildings, except in justified cases, shall be equipped with fibre so that citizens can enjoy the fastest connectivity services. Thanks to the new rules, operators will be able to swiftly deploy networks through simplified, digitised and less costly procedures.

It is now for the European Parliament and the Council to examine the proposed Regulation. Upon adoption of the Commission’s proposal by the co-legislators, the new rules will be directly applicable in all the Member States.

Gigabit Recommendation

The draft Gigabit Recommendation focuses on providing guidance to National regulatory authorities (NRAs) about the conditions for accessing the networks of those operators who have significant market power. The draft Recommendation aims to ensure that all operators can access such existing network infrastructure, when appropriate. In this way, it can ensure an adequate regulatory environment, incentivise the switch-off of legacy technologies without undue delay, i.e. within 2 to 3 years, and foster fast Gigabit network deployment, for example by promoting pricing flexibility for access to regulated networks, while enabling sustainable competition. The measures will also contribute to consumers enjoying the benefits of a single market for electronic communications in Europe – better services provided through high quality networks at affordable prices.

The draft Recommendation has been sent to the Body of European Regulators (BEREC) for a consultation, with a duration of two months. After taking into account the opinion of BEREC, the Commission will adopt its final Recommendation. The Gigabit Recommendation will replace the Access Recommendations, consisting of the Next Generation Access Recommendation (2010) and the Non-discrimination and Costing Methodology Recommendation (2013).

Consultation on the future of the telecoms sector

The EC has launched a broad exploratory consultation on the future of the connectivity sector and its infrastructure. The aim is to gather views on the changing technological and market landscape and how it may affect the sector for electronic communications.

In particular, it seeks to identify the types of infrastructure needed for Europe to keep ahead of transformative technological developments and to lead its digital transformation in the coming years. The consultation also seeks stakeholders’ views on how to ensure that the investments required to roll out such infrastructure are timely mobilised across the Union. In this context, the exploratory consultation is part of an open dialogue with all stakeholders about the potential need for all players benefitting from the digital transformation to fairly contribute to the investments in connectivity infrastructure. This is a complex issue which requires a comprehensive analysis of the underlying facts and figures, before deciding on the need for further action. The Commission is strongly committed to protecting a neutral and open Internet.

Finally, the consultation covers the issue on how to ensure affordability of connectivity for consumers and how to progress towards a more integrated Single Market for the connectivity sector.

All interested organisations, businesses and citizens are invited to complete the survey within 12 weeks. The deadline for submitting a contribution is May 19th, 2023. The Commission will report on the results. Based on the outcome of the consultation, it will consider the most appropriate actions for the future of the electronic communications sector.

“Gigabit networks are the stepping stone to our digital transformation,” stated Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age. “They can provide innovative services, more efficient business operations and smart, sustainable, digital societies. Our connectivity is crucial to deliver these opportunities to everyone in Europe. With a view to a digital transformation that is human-centric.”

“Today we are making sure that everyone, everywhere in the EU, has access to fast and secure connectivity,” added Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market. “But high-speed Internet requires high investments. That is why, in addition to facilitating network deployment in the short term, we are exploring the important question of who should pay for the next generation of connectivity infrastructure, including whether platforms should share the cost of investment in next generation connectivity with telco operators.”

John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA, said: “In an increasingly digital world, Europe’s future economic success and social development will hinge on sustained investment in advanced communications networks. We applaud the European Commission’s launch of its forward-looking consultation on the future of the connectivity sector.

It is right that the Commission is focusing on the realities of today’s digital economy in considering ways to expand future innovation and investment within the European Union, for the benefit of its citizens and businesses.

As an integral part of the consultation, we commend the Commission’s leadership in initiating an honest discussion about the role that companies benefitting the most from use of European networks should play in contributing to infrastructure investment in Europe. Today, only a handful of companies are generating more than half of all the traffic running over European networks. Exponential growth in this traffic is going to require more and more network investment. We believe it is only fair that the companies generating the largest amounts of traffic on Europe’s networks should contribute to the required infrastructure investment. That burden should not fall entirely on the backs of European consumers and businesses.

We also welcome the proposed ‘Gigabit Infrastructure Act‘, set to serve as an effective pan-European instrument to accelerate network roll-out by reducing administrative barriers and costs.

Action is imperative. Without a fresh approach, Europe runs the risk of failing to deliver on its agreed Digital Decade targets, to the detriment of European citizens and the continent’s global competitiveness.

We look forward, alongside our members, to playing an active and constructive role in the consultation announced today. We welcome the chance to help shape a robust digital future for Europe.”

Categories: Articles, Broadband, Business, Policy, Regulation, Telco

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