The EU seeks to bridge the connectivity gap in rural areas with a new law

April 2024
By Editorial Staff

The “Gigabit Infrastructure Act” is now just a step away from entering into force. The European Parliament gave its final green light with 594 votes to 7 and 15 abstentions endorsing the text agreed with the Belgian presidency of the EU Council last February. The proposed regulation has to be formally endorsed by the minister to be published in the Official Journal and enter into force after 18 months

The regulation was proposed by the European Commission in February 2023 to make the EU meet the digital decade connectivity targets. According to the strategy launched in 2021, European households should have access to high-speed internet coverage by 2025 and Gigabit connectivity by 2030, which allows a download capability of 1 gigabit per second.

The regulation repeals the 2014 Broadband Cost Reduction Directive and addresses the issue of slow and costly deployment of the underlying physical infrastructure sustaining advanced Gigabit networks. It will reduce ‘red tape’ and the costs and administrative burden associated with the deployment of Gigabit networks. 

Among others, it will simplify and digitalise permitting procedures. Representatives of the EU Council and the European Parliament secured the “tacit approval” principle, which grants that permission for installing infrastructure would be automatically granted if no response is received from the administrative authority within four months. This change in the EU legislation is envisaged to be beneficial, especially to rural and remote areas. The new regulation will also enhance the coordination of civil works between network operators to deploy the underlying physical infrastructure, such as ducts, poles, masts, antenna installations and towers. Such works represent up to 70% of the costs of network deployment. 

Besides updating the scope of the 2014 Directive on the deployment of electronic communications networks from high-speed to very-high capacity networks (VHCN), and extending the concept of “physical infrastructure” to include public non-network assets, the Regulation introduces a new set of definitions. The definition of ‘network operator’ is extended beyond undertakings providing or authorised to provide electronic communications networks and operators of other types of networks, such as transport, gas or electricity. EU legislation in this matter will apply to undertakings providing associated facilities, which thus become subject to all the obligations and benefits set out in the proposal, except the provisions regarding in-building physical infrastructure and access.

The scope of the legislation is also extended to tower companies (i.e., companies primarily engaged in the business of building, operating, and leasing electronic communications towers). “Many operators are selling their tower infrastructures to other companies, and it is important to harmonize rules”, the rapporteur of the text in the European Parliament, Alin Mituta (Renew, Romania), said while interviewed.

The final agreement endorsed by the plenary of the European Parliament also extends the price caps for current retail prices for regulated intra-EU communications until 2029, which are €0.19 per minute for calls and €0.06 per SMS message at present. By 2029, there should be no differentiation of retail prices solely based on the fact that calls originated or terminated in different member states. “It is contradictory that you can pay an additional fee when you call a person living in another EU country but you do not have to if you are travelling abroad”, Mituta said. “Until 2029 we will continue with the current caps of $0.19 per minute which were due to expire actually on the 14th of May 2024”, he stressed. Surcharge in the wholesale market will be abolished in 2032.