The European Commission (EC) has signed off a set of binding measures to cut the cost of rolling out superfast broadband across the EU, with the publication of measures agreed between the co-legislators in February.
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The final publication comes after two years of work, and covers national best practice across four main areas: enhanced facility sharing with existing infrastructure belonging to other utilities for operators willing to invest; more efficient co-ordination of civil works; faster and simpler permit granting; and the equipment of new builds and large-scale renovations with high-speed internet infrastructure.
The issue of former state telco monopolies, such as BT, restricting access to their ducts and tunnels has had a clear impact on the ability of altnet providers to get superfast broadband services up and running in rural areas, with many resorting to laying their own fibre at considerable expense.
The EC’s Wolf-Dietrich Grussman claimed the new rules could lead to 20-30% more superfast broadband deployment and bring between €40-€60bn worth of savings for providers, which could potentially go a long way towards extending coverage into rural areas.
“The digital economy is growing at seven times the rate of the rest of the economy. Much of this growth has been fuelled by broadband internet,” said Grussman. “The development of high-speed networks today is having the same revolutionary impact as the development of electricity and transportation networks had a century ago. I am confident that this piece of legislation will contribute that every euro invested in network deployment has maximum impact.”
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A BT spokesman spoke in favour of the EC plans, saying: “We welcome the EC’s ambition to further encourage broadband roll-out. The UK is already a leader in Europe – BT’s open fibre network passes more than 19 million homes and businesses and, with government support, that number will continue to grow over the coming years.”
However, some smaller broadband infrastructure providers have already dismissed the EC measures as a nice idea that is unlikely to work, and cited previous precedent as reason for their concerns.
During the early stages of the BDUK project in 2011, a number of providers expressed concern that the pricing and contractual terms of BT’s Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) scheme – the programme by which BT already allows access to its poles and ducts – were too onerous and later that year, provider Geo Networks withdrew from BDUK altogether in protest.
“The incumbent will protect their assets at all costs. And let's be honest, why shouldn't they? They are a company that needs to make a profit,” said one rural stakeholder.
Nevertheless, EU member states have until 1 January 2016 to implement the directives.