ECTA denounces EU's upcoming Gigabit broadband rules

Proposals designed to accelerate the rollout of new broadband infrastructure threaten to undo 25 years of telecoms competition, says ECTA.

Nick Wood

January 31, 2023

4 Min Read
Europe map with network points

Proposals designed to accelerate the rollout of new broadband infrastructure threaten to undo 25 years of telecoms competition, says ECTA.

This was the assertion made on Tuesday by the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA), which said it has seen a leaked draft of the European Commission’s upcoming recommendation on the regulatory promotion of Gigabit Connectivity.

According to ECTA, the language of the draft proposals would force member states to lift or relieve wholesale price control obligations on incumbent operators. It would also allegedly prevent regulators from imposing additional obligations upon incumbents in favour of voluntary commitments to play fair. ECTA also claims the rules would also call for artificially raising wholesale prices for access to legacy networks.

“Overall, the intent of the text appears to revolve entirely around increasing the profitability of the ex-monopoly telecom operators in EU member states, reversing 25 years of successful liberalisation and promotion of competition,” ECTA said in a statement on Tuesday. “Detrimental impacts on competition, on the achievement of the internal market, and on citizens’ interests are inevitable, as are detrimental impacts on alternative operators’ ability to compete, including the deployment of their own very high capacity networks.”

ECTA also denounced the Commission for not subjecting its proposals to public consultation, and for attempting to overrule the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC). It called on the Commission to rework the proposals to account for the positive impact made by altnets on investment and citizens’ interests. It also demanded that the Commission prepare an impact assessment and conduct a public consultation.

The Commission does appear to be cooking up something big.

A report by Euractiv earlier this month claimed to have seen a leaked draft of the Commission’s upcoming Gigabit Infrastructure Act, which is presumably the snappier title for the piece of legislation that ECTA is up in arms about. According to Euractiv, the legislation proposes various measures to cut red tape, improve efficiency, and lower the cost of rolling out networks.

Chief among them is a requirement that telecoms infrastructure providers – including not just telcos but also tower companies – provide physical infrastructure access (PIA) to all operators. Publicly-owned physical infrastructure, like ducts, poles and sewers, must also be opened up.

The proposed rules would also require telcos conducting civil works that are being publicly financed – either in whole or part – coordinate their efforts with other operators deploying Gigabit networks, presumably so the same bit of road only has to be dug up once. The EU also wants member states to adopt nationwide rules and procedures for granting permits for network deployment.

In-building connectivity is apparently also in the EU’s sights. It wants new – or newly-renovated – buildings to accommodate access points for networks and fibre cables. Accordingly, it wants to mandate that any proposed construction or renovation projects include Gigabit connectivity in their plans before being given permission to go ahead with the build.

To improve efficiency, the Commission wants member states to roll out single points of information for cataloguing physical infrastructure and submitting applications to carry out civil works.

Reuters reported separately that the new proposals are expected to be presented on 10 February.

Final judgement should be reserved until the draft legislation is formally unveiled. However, going on what has been shared so far, this looks like a solution in search of a problem.

No 21st Century government – in the EU or elsewhere – worth its mandate is resting on its laurels when it comes to Gigabit broadband deployment. The economic upsides are too big to ignore, as are the downsides to not doing enough. As a result, governments the world over are setting out their ambitions for Gigabit connectivity and are establishing the regulatory framework needed to turn those ambitions into reality. That includes tackling the well-documented issues with infrastructure access, permits, and coordinating civil works – as mentioned above – as well as addressing the difficult task of deploying networks in rural and remote areas.

The stats show that progress is being made. According to the FTTH Council Europe’s most recent figures, the number of premises passed by FTTH/B stood at 106.4 million in September 2015. By September 2021, that number had almost doubled to 198.4 million. The number of subscribers has more than doubled over that time to 96.1 million from 35.7 million.

On the mobile side, according to the ITU, over that same period of time, 4G network coverage doubled to reach 88 percent of the world’s population. As for 5G, according to Ookla, there were 127,509 5G sites spread across 128 countries at the end of November. A year earlier, those numbers stood at 85,602 sites across 112 countries.

Gigabit broadband is perhaps one of the rarer instances where public and private sector ambitions are more or less perfectly aligned on achieving a common goal as quickly and efficiently as possible. Where is the need for further intervention?


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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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