To accelerate the deployment of gigabit network infrastructure across Europe, the Council presidency and European Parliament’s negotiators reached a provisional agreement today on a proposal to replace the 2014 broadband cost-reducing directive (BCRD) by the gigabit infrastructure act (GIA).
GIA is an essential piece of legislation to achieve Europe’s connectivity objectives and targets, as set out in the EU’s digital compass for this decade, and to deploy the next generation electronic communications networks in the EU.
Main objectives of the new legislation
The new law aims to lower the unnecessarily high costs of the electronic communication infrastructure deployment, partially caused by the permit-granting procedures before deploying or upgrading the networks. These procedures are still complex, sometimes lengthy, and different across member states.
The regulation also aims to speed up the deployment of the networks, provide legal certainty and transparency for all economic actors involved, and provide for more efficient planning and deployment processes for operators of public electronic communications networks.
This law of minimum harmonisation nature also addresses deployment and access to in-building physical infrastructure. It is expected to facilitate cross-border applications and to allow stakeholders, electronic communications operators, equipment manufacturers or civil engineering companies, to achieve better economies of scale.
The co-legislators’ amendments
The provisional agreement maintains the general thrust of the Commission proposal. However, the co-legislators amended parts of the proposal, mainly regarding the following aspects:
- a mandatory conciliation mechanism between public sector bodies and telecom operators was introduced as an intermediate step to facilitate the permit-granting procedure
- an exception for a transitional period for smaller municipalities was included, as well as specific provisions to promote connectivity in rural and remote areas
- the factors when calculating fair and reasonable conditions for access were clarified
- a specific provision to address the presence of intermediaries between landowners and infrastructure operators was introduced
- specific provisions were agreed on a voluntary ‘fibre-ready’ label for buildings
- several carve-outs for critical national infrastructure were included in the text.
Finally, given that the current retail price for regulated intra-EU communications will expire on 14 May 2024, the provisional agreement provides for the continuation of consumer protection, especially for vulnerable users, by extending the price caps, which are €0.19 per minute for calls and €0.06 per SMS message at present.
The provisional agreement ensures overall that member states have a wide autonomy in issuing stricter and more detailed rules on several important elements of this new regulation. The new law will apply 18 months after its entry into force with some specific provisions applying at a later stage.
Following today’s provisional agreement, technical work by experts of both institutions will continue with a view to submitting a compromise text to the co-legislators for endorsement. From the Council side, the Belgian presidency aims to present the text to member states’ representatives (Coreper) for approval as soon as possible. Following its approval, the draft legislative act will be submitted to a legal/linguistic review before being formally adopted by both institutions, published in the EU’s Official Journal, and entering into force 20 days after this publication.
The broadband cost reduction directive (BCRD, 2014/61/EU), currently in force, aimed to facilitate the roll-out of high-speed electronic communications networks by lowering the costs of deployment with a set of harmonised measures. The digital targets, on which BCRD was based, have either been reached or become obsolete since 2014. For example, though the ratio of European households having access to a 30 Mbps internet network has risen from 58.1% in 2013 to 90.1% in 2021, this speed is not any more future proof, given the increased need of businesses and citizens to access networks with much higher capacity.
Beside the advances in the digital technologies since 2014, other factors have made the revision of the BCRD necessary as well. Low returns on equity and high investment costs that prevail in the telecom industry have started to derail the progress to reach the 2030 digital targets laid down in the Digital Decade policy programme. The Commission estimates that the investment gap between the present level and what would be necessary to reach these connectivity targets, is around €65 billion annually.
On 23 February 2023, the Commission submitted a proposal on measures to reduce the cost of deploying gigabit electronic communications networks and repealing directive 2014/61/EU (gigabit infrastructure act). On 3 June 2023, the Telecommunications Council took note of a progress report and on 5 December 2023, reached a general approach on this file.