EU backs support for gigabit fibre investments

By:
Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

The European Community is considering protecting investments in high-speed fibre, according to a leaked document

Operators in the European Union (EU) that build fibre networks, especially in rural networks, will be protected from having to share access with rivals, according to proposals being circulated within the European Commission.

But wholesale-only operators and operators that share the cost of network build-out will have lighter rules governing the operation, says the Reuters news agency, citing a document that it has seen.

The move appears to be an easing of the trend towards forcing incumbent operators to give their competitors access to local broadband infrastructure, despite the high costs of construction.

Reuters says that the point of the new proposal is to spur the development of fast broadband in the EU. The Commission – the executive arm of the 28-nation EU – wants to encourage the development of gigabit fibre networks to homes and businesses.

“National telecoms regulators will be required to take into account existing commercial agreements between operators when deciding whether to force them to allow competitors access to their networks,” says Reuters, citing the document it has seen.

“National regulators will be required to monitor the network investment decisions of operators and will have the power to sanction them if they deviate from their declared intentions without justification,” says the document, according to the agency.

Reuters adds: “National regulators will also have to weigh up the range of retail choices available to users to ensure that regulation is not more of a burden than necessary on operators’ decisions to invest.”

Meanwhile Vodafone group CEO Vittorio Colao has told a conference in Santander about building a digital Spain that the company supports “a European gigabit society”.

He said: “We need to start thinking of gigabit for offices, for schools, for the government, for public administrations, for remote working … and to do all of that we need the right investment set-up.”

Colao praised Spain – where he said there was an effective regulatory regime enabling all operators to have passive access to the incumbent’s ducts and poles – as an example of competition that leads to increased telecoms industry investment and better outcomes and choices for consumers.

He emphasised the need for Europe to assign spectrum as early as possible, ensure competitive access to fibre networks and establish a harmonised data protection framework that consumers will trust. If those conditions are met, he concluded, Europe could deliver on the Commission’s vision of a gigabit society by 2025, if not sooner, he said.