Recently, the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) published a press briefing on the Gigabit Infrastructure Act. This is another step in the legislative process of this major proposal – but what exactly is the Act about?
Late February this year, the European Commission revealed a legislative proposal (for a regulation) with a purpose to facilitate the deployment of gigabit electronic communications networks. The main aim of the proposed legislation is to give access to very high-speed networks, or „VHCN” (capacities of 1 Gbps and 5G coverage) across the European Union by no later than 2030, in line with the EU’s Digital Decade programme. This includes, among others:
• to fasten the deployment procedures of such networks (less time for authorities to make decisions),
• to reduce the burdens of red tape by simplifying authorizations for companies,
• all while being more cost-effective.
These goals could be achieved by more access to information from public and private entities, mandating physical infrastructure (e. g. all new buildings will have to be equipped with fibre-wiring) and lowering permit fees. The “minimum information” requirement is a provision for network operators and public sector bodies to share data on their existing physical infrastructure, so that new operators could effectively plan and construct new deployments. The scope of the proposed Act covers both existing and future, to-be-built physical infrastructure, with a particular purpose of making investments in the sector easier and more appealing.
The main entities affected are going to be in the public sector, as well as network operators. Transparency obligations would be put forward for public and private operators alike: they would be obliged to provide information on their infrastructure suitable for the deployment of VHCNs. In order to efficiently make use of the already existing infrastructure, both publicly owned items (e. g. public administration buildings) and items owned by network operators (e. g. tower companies) would be made accessible. Member States would set up bodies to coordinate such access requests and to give advice on access terms and conditions.
For developers and investors, the new regulation would make it easier, cheaper, and less complicated to install very high-speed networks. This includes simpler applications for permits, as well as strict rules for authorities in their procedures.
The ITRE’s adopted position in favour of the regulation is a milestone in the legislative process. Now, Plenary talks can begin on the legislation that would replace the existing Broadband Cost Reduction Directive (“BCRD”, 2014). The directive has some deficiencies that the Act would recondition. The current deployment process under the BCRD is highly bureaucratic and costly, and access to information on existing infrastructure capacities is limited.
Hopes are that if adopted, the regulation would contribute to the EU’s economic growth and better network access to citizens and businesses alike. The Committee also pointed out the importance of the Act in rural Europe – where internet coverage is sometimes weaker than in urban regions. On a broader scale, the concept of the Act is in the scope of the EU’s digital strategy. The objectives, aimed to be achieved by the end of this decade, also include improving digital skills, the digitalization of public services, and digital transformation of the economy and businesses. The regulation could have a beneficial impact on access to technology, including faster access to cloud services or AI platforms for users and businesses alike.