European Commission calls for EU tool box to help speed up broadband and 5G roll-outs

The European Commission has issued a new recommendation calling on the EU states to invest in very high-capacity broadband infrastructure, including 5G networks. This is part of the ‘Digital Decade’ agenda outlined by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her recent State of the Union address.  eu 5g

The rollout of very high-capacity fixed and wireless networks across the EU requires substantial investments. Currently, a significant proportion of these investments is lost in inefficiencies in the rollout process. In its report on the implementation of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive, the Commission noted that Member States were not fully using some of the measures outlined in the Directive. In particular, limited progress has been made in supporting the coordination of civil works, easing the process of applying for civil works permits or promoting transparency by means of a single information point. Member States have applied different permit-granting practices and many procedures were not completed on time, surpassing the 4-month period within which decisions relating to permits have to be made. Furthermore, only a few Member States have opted for electronic permit applications. When it comes to 5G spectrum assignment, by mid-September 2020, Member States (and the UK) had assigned on average only 27.5% of the 5G pioneer bands.

The European Electronic Communications Code and the UHF Decision establish deadlines for the authorisation of all three pioneer bands of radio spectrum for 5G wireless networks. Member States should have assigned the 700 MHz band by the end of June 2020, and 3.6 GHz and 26 MHz bands by the end of 2020. In order to timely deploy 5G networks, Member States should avoid or minimize any delays in granting operators access to radio spectrum. So far, 16 Member States have assigned at least one 5G pioneer band. A number of auctions to assign these bands to operators have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and some have already been rescheduled and are expected by the end of 2020.

What is the toolbox of best practices recommended by the Commission?

The Recommendation calls on Member States to identify and share, by 20 December 2020, a toolbox of best practices to speed up network roll-out and coordinate radio spectrum assignment. They should agree on the list of best practices by 30 March 2021.

It also gives guidance to Member States on developing the toolbox of best practices, by focusing particularly on measures which facilitate rollout of very high-capacity networks (i.e. simplified permit procedures and coordinated civil works necessary for network deployment, a single information point in the administration of public authorities, expanding access to existing infrastructure to install network elements, improving the effectiveness of the dispute resolution mechanism related to infrastructure access), as well as measures which provide timely access to radio spectrum for 5G and stronger coordination of radio spectrum assignment for 5G across borders.

What role do connectivity and, particularly, very high-capacity networks play in responding to the coronavirus crisis? eu 5g

The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the need for fast, reliable and very high quality connectivity. Communication networks have enabled remote working, schooling, healthcare, personal communication and entertainment.

They are also an important means to inform the public, help relevant public authorities in containing the spread of the virus and enable healthcare organisations to exchange data and to provide services.

How does connectivity and, particularly, how do very high-capacity networks support economic recovery?

The widespread availability of Gigabit connectivity supports bandwidth-intensive use cases in the fields of health, education, transport, logistics, energy, manufacturing, agriculture and media that emerged prominently during the last months. They can allow telemedicine, remote machine monitoring, automated processes, smart grid energy management, etc.

Connectivity is the backbone of key infrastructures and digital services. It will be vital for the economic recovery by supporting job creation, sustainable growth and modernising the Member States’ economies. 5G is a key asset for European competitiveness, sustainability and a major enabler for future digital services.

Member States should increase efforts to work together to identify best practices aiming at simplifying and reducing the cost of network deployment to encourage investment in expanding network coverage.

What does the Recommendation say on the permit granting procedures for network deployment?

As established by the Directive, for the deployment of network infrastructure, competent authorities in Member States have to grant or refuse all necessary permits for civil works within a 4-month period, except in duly justified cases or to comply with other deadlines or obligations laid down in national law. The fact is that practices among Member States differ greatly and the deadline is rarely respected.

In order to speed up the permit granting procedure, Member States should identify and share a list of best practices by 20 December 2020. They should and agree on the toolbox by 30 March 2021. These practices should aim to further streamline the permit granting procedure and lighten the administrative burden on authorities and operators. The Recommendation calls for Member States to explore how to:

  • facilitate compliance with the 4-month deadline for granting or refusing all necessary permits
  • simplify permit granting procedures, including through fast-track procedures, tacit approval and permit exemptions where appropriate
  • provide alternative means for operators to submit permit applications for all civil works necessary for network deployment, including through electronic means and the single information point in the administration of public authorities
  • establish the single information point as a single entry point for submitting all permit applications for civil works, facilitating the information sharing between the applicant and the competent authorities

What does the Recommendation say on transparency of existing physical infrastructure?

For a faster roll-out of networks, operators should have easy access to information on existing infrastructure for the deployment of network elements. In this way, existing physical infrastructure such as buildings, ducts, poles and street furniture, can be used more efficiently, protecting citizens and the environment. Member States should ensure that all infrastructure information is available through a single information point in electronic format. This may include information by public sector bodies concerning infrastructure they own or control. Moreover, operators should be encouraged to make available through the single information point, the information concerning their existing physical infrastructure, which they have shared with other operators upon request.

What does the Recommendation foresee to reduce the environmental impact of networks? eu 5g

Member States are encouraged to adopt best practices in deploying networks with a reduced environmental impact, particularly regarding energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. In light of this, by 20 December 2020, Member States should identify the criteria for sustainable networks and the incentives provided to operators for deploying such networks. Deployment may be subject to an assessment of environmental effects under the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive or the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.

What measures with regards to incentivising operators’ investment in 5G must the Member States report about to the Commission by 20 December 2020? eu 5g

To promote widespread network coverage, Member States should opt for measures that incentivize operator investment in 5G rollout. As part of identifying and sharing best practices for the toolbox, by 20 December 2020, Member States should inform the Commission, in particular through the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG), about specific measures for incentivising operators’ investment in 5G, including: eu 5g

  • promoting reserve prices that reflect the minimum levels of fees for rights of use of spectrum
  • avoiding spectrum scarcity by assigning the full amount of harmonized radio spectrum at EU level
  • Considering that the fees for rights of use of spectrum can be paid in installments within the period of those rights
  • giving preference to an individual authorisation regime for the 26 GHz frequency band, which promotes its timely use and is based, in particular, on fast-track administrative procedures when applied to geographically limited rights of use
  • combining financial incentives with obligations or formal commitments to accelerate or to expand high-quality wireless coverage
  • incentivising the sharing of passive and active infrastructure, as well as joint roll-out of infrastructure that relies on the use of radio spectrum

What does the Recommendation say on supporting more cross-border coordination of radio spectrum? eu 5g

5G wireless connectivity will be particularly important for providing coverage for the important transport routes in Europe, including roads, railways and inland waterways. As part of the toolbox in support of coordinated spectrum authorization for cross-border use, by 30 March 2021, Member States should identify cross-border use cases for road transport, rail transport and industrial manufacturing. In order to ensure business continuity across borders, for each identified use case, Member States should further agree on best practices regarding a common frequency range, an authorization regime and conditions for spectrum use.


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