The European Commission on Thursday launched a series of new initiatives designed to boost the development of Gigabit connectivity, but while the bloc's telecoms industry will applaud certain moves, others could well be less popular.

Mary Lennighan

February 23, 2023

3 Min Read
Europe map with network points

The European Commission on Thursday launched a series of new initiatives designed to boost the development of Gigabit connectivity, but while the bloc’s telecoms industry will applaud certain moves, others could well be less popular.

Brussels’ latest actions include the launch of its much-discussed consultation into infrastructure investment; essentially, its latest attempt to look at making big tech companies contribute to building the networks that carry their traffic. But it has also presented two new Gigabit initiatives – the Gigabit Infrastructure Act and a draft Gigabit Recommendation – both of which will also occupy their fair share of column inches in the coming months.

The Gigabit Infrastructure Act is geared towards cutting the red tape that so often gets in the way of network rollout. Should it pass muster with the European Parliament and Council, the act will replace the 2014 Broadband Cost Reduction Directive. Its key tenets are to simplify and digitalise the process of obtaining permits for network rollout; to improve coordination of civil works between network operators when it comes to installing ducts, masts and so forth, and ensure relevant parties can gain access; and to require all new or majorly renovated buildings have access to fibre.

“Thanks to the new rules, operators will be able to swiftly deploy networks through simplified, digitised and less costly procedures,” the Commission explained.

There’s not a lot to argue with there. Indeed, the GSMA swiftly put out a statement applauding the Commission’s actions, including welcoming the proposed Gigabit Infrastructure Act, which is, according to John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA, “set to serve as an effective pan-European instrument to accelerate network rollout by reducing administrative barriers and costs.”

Giusti also devoted several paragraphs to the launch of the EU’s network consultation, reminding us again that a handful of companies generate more than half of the traffic running over European networks, without actually mentioning Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Apple et al by name.

“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,” Giusti said. Which is pretty much what you would expect the GSMA to say on the matter.

However, the industry body neglected to address the European Commission’s other initiative, the draft Gigabit Recommendation, which is likely to be the most controversial element of its announcement.

In the commission’s own words, “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 is looking to bring about the switch-off of legacy networks within the next two-to-three years and promote fast Gigabit network deployment, and one way of doing this will be by “by promoting pricing flexibility for access to regulated networks, while enabling sustainable competition.”

The wording seems to suggest that ECTA, which railed against a leaked version of the document last month, was been correct to surmise that Brussels is keen to ease wholesale price control obligations on incumbent operators in order to promote Gigabit rollout – essentially, allowing them to price legacy network access out of the market.

While the European Commission is naturally focusing on the perceived benefits – “better services provided through high quality networks at affordable prices” – the move will give pause for thought for many operators across the bloc.

Which is perhaps why the GSMA has nothing whatsoever to say on the matter right now.

The Commission has sent the draft Recommendation to the Body of European Regulators (BEREC) for a two-month consultation, after which it will adopt its final Recommendation.

Expect to hear voices raised across the EU in the meantime, particularly from the altnets, smaller telcos, and related bodies.


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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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