Commission considers ways to enhance rules for the cost reduction of broadband and 5G roll-out

By Feyo Sickinghe

02-2021

On 27 January, the European Commission held a workshop as part of the public consultation of the review of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive of 2014 (BCRD). The Directive aims to facilitate and incentivise the roll-out of high-speed electronic communications networks by lowering the costs of deployment with a set of harmonised measures. The measures focus on access to existing physical infrastructure, coordination of civil works, simplification of administrative procedures and requirements for inbuilding physical infrastructure for new buildings and major renovations. It also includes provisions to ensure transparency of relevant information through single Information Points and dispute resolution mechanisms.

The review of the BCRD is part of the actions announced in the Communication on ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’, which stressed that, for digital infrastructure and networks alone, the EU has an investment gap of EUR 65 billion per year. Moreover, adequate investments at EU, national and regional levels are necessary to achieve the EU 2025 connectivity objectives and a Gigabit Society in Europe.

The evidence gathered so far, including the report on the implementation of the BCRD and the continuous monitoring of its implementation in the Member States, gives rise to the need for the BCRD to be evaluated and possibly revised, according to the Commission. At the same time, the revised instrument should adapt to recent and current technological, market and regulatory developments and help foster a more efficient and fast deployment of more sustainable very high capacity networks, including fibre and 5G. The aim would be to ensure alignment with the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) and contribute to greening the Information and Communication Technology sector as part of the European Green Deal.

The workshop focused on drivers and persisting barriers for network deployment, investment incentivising measures (access to existing physical infrastructure, transparency, coordination of civil works, availability and access to in-building infrastructure), as well as the environmental impact of networks and permit-granting procedures. Around 180 participants attended the workshop from industry, national regulatory authorities, local authorities and ministries across the EU. There was a broad consensus regarding the need to increase the effectiveness of the rules for cost reduction of broadband and 5G deployment.

The main issues brought forward include:

  • A lack of effective cooperation with local authorities and an absence of common and transparent rules for coordination of civil works. National standardised rules and technical systems are needed;
  • A need for a coherent procedural approach for deployment of antennas and fixed networks by local authorities;
  • A need for the Directive to be aligned with the EECC, with respect to stimulating the deployment of very high capacity networks (VHCNs) and physical infrastructure controlled by the public sector;
  • Symmetrical regulation with respect to access to networks and physical infrastructure should complement regulation of significant market power in the EECC;
  • Misleading advertising in terms of fibre speeds needs to be addressed through EU rules;
  • Copper switch-off should be facilitated by common rules;
  • Single information points (SIP) should also be used for coordination of civil works, reconstructions and sharing information on spare capacity in networks;
  • Binding roles are needed for the cost of infrastructure sharing;
  • Strong support was expressed for cost-based fees for permit granting, re-paving of roads and degeneration levied by local authorities through a centralised system or platform;
  • Permits for small civil works should be granted through tacit approval, as is already the case in one Member State;
  • There should be a general permit exemption for deploying cables on facades of buildings;
  • Dispute resolution takes too long and the resulting lack of legal certainty does not foster investment;
  • A need was expressed to have a directly applicable Regulation instead of a Directive.

The Commission concluded that the Directive had not been used to its full potential. There is also a clear necessity for more consistency with the EECC. In particular, the Commission mentioned the need for stronger coordination with and between authorities, the role of the SIP and the need for enhanced dispute resolution procedures.

Next steps

The Commission will publish a workshop report in the coming weeks. It has launched a study with respect to the Directive and has called upon the market to deliver input. A second workshop for public authorities will be held on 22 February. The Commission then aims to present a legislative proposal in the first quarter of 2022.

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