Introduction

The decree on ultra wideband has finally been given the green light, with the allocation of €2.2 billion to create a reliable and eagerly awaited infrastructure that will be accessible to:

  • 10 million people;
  • 800 municipalities;
  • 400 hospitals;
  • 2,000 schools; and
  • 5,000 administrative headquarters.

The €12 billion plan, which will run until 2020, includes approximately €7 billion of public funding in addition to €5 billion in private investment. As recently stated by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, public funding will comprise €4.9 billion from the government – €3.5 billion of which will come from a development and cohesion fund and €2.1 billion from regional funds. Availability during the first phase of the plan (ie, until 2017) will be limited and the designation of a production centre is also expected.

Delays

Antonello Giacomelli, deputy minister for communications, recently announced that the project has been scheduled to begin in autumn. The initial delay appears to have been caused by:

  • public incentives regarding tenders for those areas in which no operator expresses an interest to intervene (known as 'white areas');
  • public-private partnership; and
  • the direct intervention of Infratel – the Ministry of Economic Development's in-house company tasked with implementing the government's broadband and ultra wideband plans.

According to Giacomelli, the intervening months will be used to complete operational plans and consult with operators to map out the white areas.

The decree will include the incentive and simplification rules envisaged by the ultra wideband plan and is supported by Giacomelli and the prime minister's economic adviser, Andrea Guerra. However, finalising the decree has not been straightforward, due to:

  • interventions from the Ministry of Economy;
  • disagreements with the European Commission; and
  • expected changes to the management of the Cassa depositi e prestiti (a joint stock company under public control) linked to a possible change of government strategy regarding telecommunications and Telecom Italia.

The terms still to be decided concern:

  • the pre-notification procedure – even before the introduction of the emergency measure – with the aim of being given the green light within 12 months; and
  • vouchers for end users migrating to ultra wideband connections with the appropriate allocation mechanism.

Next steps

The next step is the approval of regulations regarding new types of incentive and the simplification of procedures for laying optical fibre. The changes include a reformulation of measures regarding the allocation of vouchers to users, with which the government hopes to get around potential EU objections, prompted by the preventive objections already received from Telecom Italia and Fastweb. In short, the clause that limited vouchers to a "guaranteed symmetric connection greater than 100 Mbps" will be replaced by a formula that refers to ultra wideband connections in accordance with Articles 82 and following of the European Commission guidelines on government aid for broadband.

However, the paragraph that (as part of the tender to qualify for incentives reserved for operators) assigns an additional value to "subjects not vertically integrated with a wholesale offer only" – a profile that could be attributed to Metroweb, but not Telecom Italia – was confirmed.

Despite these positive steps, the road towards completion of this important and eagerly awaited project will be long.

For further information on this topic please contact Vittorio Noseda or Carlo Grignani at NCTM Studio Legale Associato by telephone (+39 02 72 5511) or email (v.noseda@nctm.it or carlo.grignani@nctm.it). The NCTM Studio Legale Associato website can be accessed at www.nctm.it.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.