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EU lawmakers agree on watered down Gigabit Infrastructure Act

The European Parliament and European Council have reached agreement on a law designed to boost Gigabit infrastructure, but their compromises have left the telecoms industry cold.

Mary Lennighan

February 7, 2024

3 Min Read

The two bodies have come to a provisional agreement on the Gigabit Infrastructure Act that they insist "maintains the general thrust" of the proposal unveiled by the European Commission a year ago. The act is slated to replace the 2014 Broadband Cost Reduction Directive and essentially aims to cut some of the red tape than can hinder fibre and 5G network rollouts.

The lawmakers listed half a dozen amendments to the original act (see below), while also agreeing to extend price caps on intra-EU comms that are due to expire in May.


The European Commission welcomed the agreement. It noted that the act will help simplify and speed up network rollout "by reducing the administrative burden and the costs of deployment," much as it did when it first floated the idea, ignoring the amendments made as a result of its trilogue talks with the European Council presidency and Parliament.

The news was much less welcome in industry circles though.

ETNO said it "acknowledges the efforts," of the three European bodies in reaching a deal, but the fact that they tried hard is the most positive thing it has to say about the situation.

"The result of the political negotiations departs from the original level of ambition as set out by the European Commission," ETNO said. "We note the dilution of crucial measures to reduce timing and cost of roll-out."

Specifically, the industry body is concerned about the weakening of the tacit approval concept, which should have enabled network builders to push on with their rollouts if landowners fail to respond to permit requests in a timely fashion. Having been a key tenet of the act in its original form, it is now only an option for member states.

"We also take note that further retail price regulation of intra-EU calls is still on the table, subject to prior Impact Assessment," ETNO added, calling for a thorough assessment in that regard.

Both areas were flagged up by ETNO and fellow industry bodies ECTA, GIGAEurope and the GSMA last week, when they banded together to share their "strong concerns" over the way the wind was blowing in Brussels.

Clearly their opinions fell on stony ground, leaving the European telecoms players with less help than they might have liked on rolling out new networks.

"Reaching all European citizens with gigabit networks is key to socio-economic inclusion and, as per official figures, this requires a €200bn effort by the end of this decade," ETNO said, referring to an investment figure that both it and the EU have used to quantify the cash needed for the bloc to hit its 2030 connectivity targets.

"We believe that truly game changing rules are still required, as we wait for the upcoming European Commission work on the 'Connectivity Package on digital networks and infrastructure.'" ETNO said.

The Gigabit Infrastructure Act was among a number of initiatives included in that package, alongside last year's headline-hitting consultation into infrastructure investment in the EU; the debate on making big tech pay for networks, essentially.

The package also included a draft Gigabit Recommendation designed to help national regulators deal with operators with too much market power and to help them phase out legacy networks to the benefit of gigabit infrastructure. At the time, that appeared to be the element of the package that would prove the most controversial, but the Commission noted that it had adopted the Gigabit Recommendation on Tuesday. It replaces the Next Generation Access Recommendation (2010) and the Non-discrimination and Costing Methodology Recommendation (2013).

As for the Gigabit Infrastructure Act, it must now be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. The new rules will be applicable in all EU member states 18 months after its entry into force, with certain provisions applying slightly later, the Commission said.

That's pretty standard for EU law. But given that the act is fundamentally about helping the EU keep up with the rest of the world on high-speed network access, a bit more urgency wouldn't be a bad thing.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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