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Telecom sector to see broadband rules approved next month, as Europe’s 5G roll-out lags

Despite an increasing great demand for high-speed internet, the uptake of these networks is still relatively low in Europe, especially in rural areas
Despite an increasing great demand for high-speed internet, the uptake of these networks is still relatively low in Europe, especially in rural areas Copyright Ervins Strauhmanis/Ervins Strauhmanis
Copyright Ervins Strauhmanis/Ervins Strauhmanis
By Cynthia Kroet
Published on
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Europe’s telecom industry is likely to see updated broadband infrastructure rules approved early February, as 5G roll-out across the Union remains low.

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The European Commission’s overhaul of broadband rules, the Gigabit Infrastructure Act (GIA), is set to be concluded during EU negotiations on 5 February, the lawmaker in charge of the file in the European Parliament told Euronews.

The GIA, proposed in February 2023, is part of a commission effort to speed up the roll-out of high-capacity networks including 5G and fibre. The set of rules also includes ways to harmonise permit-granting procedures for deploying or upgrading the networks across the bloc. Currently telecom rules are relatively fragmented across the EU due to national competences.

At the first political trilogue, which took place yesterday (25 January), progress was made, Romanian liberal lawmaker Alan Mituța said.

“We exchanged views on topics such as the intra-EU calls and the entry into application. I am confident that we can reach an agreement in the next trilogue," Mituța added.

Despite an increasing great demand for high-speed internet, the uptake of these networks is still relatively low in Europe, especially in rural areas. Telecom lobby group ETNO, is sceptical if the proposed law will actually speed up 5G rollout.

ETNO's Deputy Director-General Alessandro Gropelli told Euronews: “If cost-reduction measures are watered down and unwarranted intra-EU call regulation is introduced, then we expect that this law will directly result in less 5G and fibre investment.”

Figures published last year by the commission show that 56% of European households have access to fiber networks, which are critical for delivering gigabit connectivity. The EU executive set a goal that by 2030, all EU households should have gigabit connectivity and all populated areas should be covered by 5G.

Land issues

Among open issues for next week’s trilogue is an article on how to regulate the price of land under fair conditions, where towers and antennas for 5G networks are built. This has led to resistance by land aggregators who currently negotiate the prices to rent farmers’ land to build telecom equipment. The draft law will likely shift this power to towercos - companies that build, manage and maintain communications infrastructure.

Other topics such as charges for intra-EU calls, and the date of application of the rules are still open for discussion. EU lawmakers want the law to enter into force within half a year after the vote, whereas member states are calling for an implementation time of two years.

Digital Networks Act

Besides the GIA, Europe’s telecom industry also eagerly awaits the commission’s white paper on the Digital Networks Act (DNA). This plan aims to address possible issues with the funding of the telecom infrastructure.

The initiative, spear-headed by EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton, led to a heated debate in which the telecom lobby called for more financial support from large content providers as they use telecom infrastructure and generate a lot of traffic. In turn, Big Tech said it is already paying for this and fees imposed on them would lead to rising customer costs.

A strategic paper is scheduled for 21 February, actual legislation could potentially follow when the new European Commission takes office after the June election.

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