FiCom supports the European Commission’s proposed Gigabit Infrastructure Act

Communication networks are the backbone of the digital society. The European Commission’s proposed Gigabit Infrastructure Act aims to break down the barriers to constructing communication networks. This is a prime opportunity to promote Europe’s digital development and the attendant benefits.

On 23 February 2023, the European Commission issued a proposal for a regulation to be enacted by the European Parliament and of the Council on the means for reducing the costs of installing very high capacity (gigabit) digital networks and repealing the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive (BCRD) of 2014. The main objective of the proposal is to facilitate the construction of communication networks to reach the EU’s target of enabling gigabit connections in the EU by 2030 (Digital Decade Policy Programme 2030 and Digital Compass).

The European Commission’s proposal and its objective are laudable

 A consultation carried out before the Commission issued its proposal found that the conditions of building and siting permits and the range of administrative fees are considered bottlenecks in the process of building telecommunications infrastructure. The BCRD has not, therefore, reduced the administrative burden, eliminated unreasonable conditions or decreased the charges arising from these. It is clear that the BCRD was insufficient because the Commission is now embarking on a full-scale reform – instead of amending the regulation – and the regulatory instrument is an act rather than a directive.

The European Commission’s proposal and its objective are absolutely worthy of support. It is justified and appropriate that the regulatory instrument should be an act to replace the existing directive. The regulation should take the form of a minimum regulation so that national regulators can choose to impose stricter, more ambitious targets.

The Compass aims to ensure that all European households have gigabit connectivity by 2030 and that the 5G network covers all inhabited areas. Ambitious targets and the ever-increasing volumes of telecommunications significantly increase the need for telecoms companies to invest in networks, presenting an unprecedented challenge. To achieve these objectives, it is essential for regulators to be required to digitalise, reduce, accelerate and harmonise the conditions of building and siting permits and provide single information points that provide all the necessary permits. The European Commission’s proposal seeks to resolve these problems, thereby contributing to the Digital Compass goals.

The European Commission’s proposal should be seen as an opportunity – it is in the EU’s interests to promote it

 Harmonising permit procedures and enabling digital service at a single information point should promote the availability of very fast broadband services, reduce the costs incurred by network construction companies, and incentivise investment. Accelerating permit processing, thereby boosting construction efficiency, is a more important issue for improving the telecommunications connections available to citizens.

At least in Finland, public-sector bodies – especially in the municipal sector – have focused almost exclusively on the potential problems of the proposal. Rather than pointing to threats and emphasising challenges, the relevant parties should adopt a more solution-oriented approach and highlight the opportunities of the proposal and its positive impact on the EU and European citizens. The impediments to network construction are well known, and the Gigabit Infrastructure Act will address them with long-overdue solutions requiring determined implementation.

The European Commission’s proposal was issued to promote the rapid construction of communications networks, thus also promoting digitalisation, the digital green transition, cybersecurity, investment and employment. Critics of the proposal seem to lack a detailed understanding of why communications networks are built. They only consider the proposal from their own narrow viewpoints – for example, considering its impacts on permit authorities. It is surely in nobody’s interest to prevent or delay the construction of communications networks, so it is highly surprising to see such vigorous opposition to the proposal.

Telecoms companies bear the greatest financial burden of ensuring that the EU reaches its gigabit society objectives for 2030. The achievement of these objectives should be supported by all available means. These are very large investments. In Finland, they will be made on market terms in competitive markets.

Marko Lahtinen, Legal Affairs Manager, FiCom