EU's Gigabit Infrastructure Act gets final green light

The much-discussed Gigabit Infrastructure Act got its final approval from the European Council on Monday, meaning that it will come into force in a matter of days.

Mary Lennighan

April 30, 2024

3 Min Read

Cue some serious hype from Brussels, with lawmakers declaring it a gamechanger for the development of high-speed connectivity across the 27-member bloc. But let's pause for a moment. While the act may well help operators roll out networks – although not as much as they would have liked – its impact will not be felt for some time yet.

Having got the go-ahead from the Council, a week after the European Parliament also voted in its favour, the act is then published in the Official Journal, which could take a couple of days. It officially comes into force three days after that. However, it does not become law for another 18 months and some provisions of the act will apply even later than that.

That's all normal process for European lawmaking. These things take time. But with the EU desperate to reach end-of-decade targets on high-speed network coverage, as well as maintain a position on the international stage, the rules are arguably less impactful than the legislators would have us believe.

"The adoption of the gigabit infrastructure act reflects our commitment to tackle administrative burden and boost the roll-out of high-speed networks," said Petra De Sutter, Belgian deputy prime and minister of public administration, public enterprises, telecommunication, and postal services, in a canned statement. "This will allow our citizens to surf faster and have a better digital experience using fibre or 5G."

There can be no doubt that the act will help network builders. It includes provisions to speed up the process of obtaining permits from landowners, albeit at a more watered-down level than many had hoped, and to run networks into buildings, for example. It also includes an extension to intra-EU retail price caps, which were due to expire on 14 May. The current caps of €0.19 per minute for voice calls and €0.06 per SMS message will now run until 30 June 2032.

The EU is aiming for full gigabit coverage by 2030 and 5G networks in all populated areas by 2030. It recently published a State of the Digital Decade report which showed that at present fibre networks reach just 56% of households, while 5G covers 81% of the population, dropping to 51% in rural areas. So there's certainly some way to go, particularly when you consider that much of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

The EU has often quoted a figure of €200 billion as the necessary investment required to meet its coverage targets, so there's much more at play here than rules governing permitting and so forth.

Industry bodies ETNO, ECTA, GIGAEurope and the GSMA have made their feelings clear on the act in recent months: namely that the content of the act has been diluted far too much compared with what was first presented by the European Commission in early 2023. The industry is now looking to the next Commission – elections are due to take place later this year – for further development of infrastructure rules.

In the meantime, those currently occupying the seats in Brussels are determined to view the act as a great achievement of their time in power. The reality is that it will help network builders, but could have done more.

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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