EC revises rules to accelerate Gigabit, 5G, Wi-Fi access

15 Sep 2016

The European Commission (EC) yesterday proposed an overhaul of EU telecoms rules and an action plan to encourage investment in very high capacity networks and accelerate free public Wi-Fi access, whilst extending certain regulations to internet-based (OTT) players. The proposals form part of the EU strategy to create a Digital Single Market under 16 initiatives set out in May 2015, with the aim to deliver all of them by the end of 2016.

The Commission yesterday put forward three strategic connectivity objectives for 2025:

• All main socio-economic drivers, such as schools, universities, research centres, transport hubs, all providers of public services such as hospitals and administrations, and enterprises relying on digital technologies, should have *access to Gigabit connectivity (1Gbps download/upload)*

• All European households, rural or urban, should have access to connectivity offering a download speed of at least 100Mbps, which can be upgraded to Gigabit speeds

• All urban areas as well as major roads and railways should have uninterrupted 5G coverage. As an interim target, 5G should be commercially available in at least one major city in each EU Member State by 2020.

The EC’s press release adds that these objectives can only be achieved with massive investments. The Commission therefore proposed a new *European Electronic Communications Code* including simplified rules designed to encourage all companies to invest in new top-quality infrastructures, everywhere in the EU, both locally and across national borders. The investments triggered by the new framework could boost EU GDP by an additional EUR910 billion (USD1.023 trillion) and create 1.3 million new jobs by 2025, the EC claimed. In addition to the Code, the Commission also presented an action plan to deploy 5G across the EU as from 2018, with the potential to create a further ‘two million jobs in the EU’. Another key initiative of the new connectivity package, *WiFi4EU*, aims to help European communities offer free Wi-Fi access points to any citizen.

Reaching the EU connectivity objectives is estimated to require EUR500 billion investment over the coming decade, largely from the private sector, but under current investment trends, there is likely to be a EUR155 billion investment shortfall, the EC calculates. To meet this challenge, the Commission proposes a modernisation of the current EU (2009) telecoms rules, including the following proposals:

• ‘Increased competition and predictability for investments’ (substantially reducing regulation where rival operators co-invest in very high capacity networks; making it easier for smaller players to be part of investment projects via pooling of costs and economies of scale; new rules making the investment case more predictable for ‘first movers’ who take the risk to invest in networks in less profitable areas, such as rural areas)

• ‘Better use of radio frequencies’ (longer licence durations, coupled with more stringent requirements to use spectrum effectively and efficiently; converged spectrum policies for network coverage across the EU)

• ‘Stronger consumer protection’ (making it easier to switch suppliers; ensuring vulnerable groups have the right to affordable internet contracts)

• ‘A safer online environment for users and fairer rules for all players’ (extending selected rules to new online players which offer equivalent services to traditional operators, to ensure that network/server security requirements apply, as well as access to the EU emergency number 112 via such online services in the future)

Regarding WiFi4EU, the Commission proposed an initial budget of EUR120 million, for the ‘public voucher scheme’ to deliver connectivity to ‘thousands of public spaces, generating 40 to 50 million Wi-Fi connections per day’, envisaging that ‘a minimum of 6,000 to 8,000 local communities should benefit from this new project by 2020‘.

Regarding the action plan for 5G, the EC foresees a common EU calendar for a coordinated 5G commercial launch in 2020, as well as joint work with Member States and industry stakeholders to identify and allocate spectrum bands for 5G, organise pan-European 5G trials as of 2018, promote common global 5G standards and encourage the adoption of national 5G deployment roadmaps across all EU Member States. The Commission and investors in the telecoms sector could also consider providing a specialised venture financing facility to start-ups developing 5G solutions for innovative applications and services across industrial sectors.