The European Commission (EC) has outlined a raft of proposals including regulation designed to put forward new rules to enable a faster, cheaper and more-effective roll-out of gigabit networks across the European Union (EU).
The new regulations consist of a proposal for a Gigabit Infrastructure Act, and 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, to incentivise faster switch-off of legacy technologies and accelerated gigabit networks deployment.
The commission has also 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 future developments and needs.
The proposed Gigabit Infrastructure Act sets out to serve as an effective pan-European instrument to accelerate network roll-out by reducing administrative barriers and costs.
Explaining its necessity, the EC noted that 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 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 is said to be a response to the growing demand for faster, more reliable, data-intense connectivity. It will replace the existing Broadband Cost Reduction Directive outlined in 2014.
The Act will set out to reduce “red tape”, and the costs and administrative burden associated with the deployment of gigabit networks.
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It will also aim to simplify and digitise permitting procedures, enhancing the coordination of civil works between network operators to deploy the underlying physical infrastructure, such as ducts and masts, and ensure the relevant actors obtain access to it. The EC believes such works represent up to 70% of the costs of network deployment. Moreover, the Act proposes that all new or majorly renovated buildings, except in justified cases, shall be equipped with fibre so that citizens can access gigabit connectivity services. With the new rules, the EC is confident that operators will be able to swiftly deploy networks through simplified, digitised and less-costly procedures.
The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers will now 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.
For its part, 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. It aims to ensure that all operators can access such existing network infrastructure when appropriate.
In this way, the EC said it can ensure an adequate regulatory environment, incentivise the switch-off of legacy technologies without undue delay, i.e. within two to three years, and foster fast gigabit network deployment, for example, by promoting pricing flexibility for access to regulated networks while enabling sustainable competition.
The new proposals have already been welcomed by leading bodies in the communications industry. Global mobile trade body the GSMA applauded the European Commission’s launch of its forward-looking consultation on the future of the connectivity sector.
“In an increasingly digital world, Europe’s future economic success and social development will hinge on sustained investment in advanced communications networks,” said GSMA chief regulatory officer John Giusti. “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,” he said. “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.”