New EU laws proposed to deliver 1 gigabit per second broadband connectivity by 2025

Out-Law News | 15 Sep 2016 | 10:19 am | 3 min. read

New EU laws have been proposed to spur investment in next-generation telecoms infrastructure and deliver faster broadband connectivity across the trading bloc.

The European Commission said it wants "all schools, transport hubs and main providers of public services as well as digitally intensive enterprises" to have access to broadband speeds of at least 1 gigabit of data per second (Gbps) by 2025.

Each household, including those in rural areas, should also have access to broadband networks delivering speeds of at least 100Mbps and which can be upgraded to 1 Gbps by 2025 too, it said.

The Commission said that by 2020 each EU country should also ensure that within at least one major city there is "uninterrupted 5G wireless broadband coverage" in urban areas and on major roads and railways. That level of coverage should be available nationwide by 2025, it said.

The Commission has proposed a new European Electronic Communications Code and a new action plan for the deployment of 5G technologies to underpin its plans.

"The Commission’s proposals for 5G rollout are to work towards the voluntary establishment of a common timetable to launch 5G networks, so this timetable will still be subject to discussion," telecoms law expert Reg Dhanjal of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said.

Andrus Ansip, EU commissioner for the digital single market, said: "Without first-class communication networks, there will be no digital single market. We need connectivity that people can afford and use while on the move. To achieve that, spectrum policies must be better coordinated across the EU. More competition and further integration of the European market will allow us to reach these goals, helped by the right environment created by the new Communications Code."

According to the Commission's plans, telecoms market regulators are to be placed under new statutory obligations to "promote access to, and take-up of, very high capacity data connectivity, both fixed and mobile" by people and businesses within the EU.

The definitions of an 'electronic communications network' and 'electronic communications service' would also be amended, and new definitions also added, to bring new-age communication services that piggy-back on the infrastructure of others within the scope of telecoms regulation for the first time.

Among the type of regulation the 'over-the-top' (OTT) communication service providers would be subject to, if the proposals are introduced, are network and service security obligations. These include duties regarding the security of networks and the integrity and therefore availability of the services supplied. Breaches of the obligations would need to be reported to regulators.

Under the proposed reforms OTT providers could be forced to disclose information about their network security to regulators and submit to security audits. Traditional telecoms operators are already subject to security and integrity rules.

The proposals also envisage closer cooperation between EU countries in future on allocation of spectrum bands. A draft new joint authorisation process has been outlined to govern how EU countries can work together in allocating spectrum for use. In addition, national regulators running their own spectrum auctions, for example, would have to make the process open to scrutiny by BEREC, a body comprising telecoms regulators from across the EU, and take account of any recommendations it makes and justify any decision not to follow them.

The European Commission would also have the power to introduce legislation setting down a time limit EU countries would have to meet to assign spectrum for particular uses.

The draft new European Electronic Communications Code also sets out high-level rules for governing the installation, maintenance and sharing of telecoms equipment, such as masts, antennae towers and ducts. It also, for the first time, would specifically govern the deployment and use of Wi-Fi equipment. However, businesses will not require authorisation to deploy a Wi-Fi network on their premises if the connectivity provided would be "ancillary" to its main commercial activities.

The interconnection of different communications networks and services is also promoted under the proposals.

Under the planned reforms, BEREC would also be empowered to identify "transnational markets" for communication services. Communication providers with significant market power in those markets could be subject to regulatory controls, including potential wholesale market pricing restrictions and even functional separation of some of their business units.

The proposals were welcomed by telecoms industry body the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO). However, it said the new framework must include the necessary incentives for telecoms companies to spur them to invest in next-generation infrastructure.

ETNO said: "It is essential that the final rules: provide a consistent and effective boost to network investment, incentivising all network investment models, including those of Europe’s largest investors in broadband deployment."

The body said the final rules must be "inclusive and fully technologically neutral" and "swiftly achieve concrete and credible results on spectrum". The reforms must also deliver "an innovation-first and trust-based approach by creating a consistent set of rules for consumers and further simplifying sector-specific regulation" so as to "boost the development of innovative consumer services".