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EU high speed internet: Commission, Parliament press states for bolder decision

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During a debate on Wednesday (20 September), European Commission and Parliament representatives shared similar positions on harmonisation rules, such as the tacit approval of permit granting and fibre rollout, putting pressure on member states to come closer to their viewpoints.

The Gigabit Infrastructure Act (GIA) is an EU legislative proposal that aims to provide every European household with gigabit and 5G connectivity by 2030 through harmonising the telecom infrastructure industry.

“What is absolutely essential in this proposal to work is to have short deadlines, keep the tacit approval,” Kamila Kloc told an event organised by Euractiv. Kloc, the Director of the Digital Decade and Connectivity Department at the Commission, also said that regarding in-house wiring, the Commission “stayed quite firm that it is the best future-proof solution”.

Emilio D?vila, a digital transformation expert at the permanent representation of Spain to the EU, explained that member states were “need[ing] a text that is agile”, leaving leeway for member states when implementing the regulation.

Spain currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.

Tacit approval

“Tacit approval” is a principle whereby, after a set period, the absence of an answer from an administrative authority is considered a formal approval.

Alin Mitu?a, an EU lawmaker and Parliament’s rapporteur for the Gigabit Infrastructure Act, explained that this “tacit approval” principle for permit-granting procedures regarding telecom infrastructures was supported by the Parliament and the Commission.

“In order to speed up the deployment of the network, we clearly need very quick procedures, and the tacit approval goes in this direction,” said Mitu?a.

He added that the Parliament text envisaged carve-outs in countries where the “tacit approval” principle is unconstitutional or in contradiction with national or legal frameworks.

Mieke de Regt, the counsellor for digital & telecoms at Belgium’s permanent representation to the EU, explained that the text voted by the European Parliament on 19 September was “definitely something [the EU Council] can work with”, adding that she believed the texts of the two co-legislators were “going in the same direction”.

Yet, she alluded to the importance for a group of member states to have “explicit approval” instead of “tacit approval”.

Fibre rollout

Leo-Geert van den Berg, the executive director of technology at the VodafoneZiggo, a Dutch communications operator, urged the Commission during the debate to continue its “technological neutrality approach”.

VodafoneZiggo advocates for a “technologically neutral” regulation that does not put the emphasis on a particular technology for very high capacity network infrastructure rollout.

It deployed coaxial cables around the Netherlands and sees the mention of fibre as a threat to their business model.

Kloc replied to van den Berg that technological neutrality was “enshrined in the definition” of the regulation and that the switch from cable networks to fibre networks was happening by itself in the telecom infrastructure market.

Mitu?a went a step further and stated that fibre was the most advanced technology, and therefore should be installed for in-building infrastructures if the EU wanted to reach high-speed connectivity by 2030.

Konstantinos Masselos, the chair of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), said that the advantages of fibre technology were well known: “high speed, scalability, reliability, technology that has been proven on the field, a very clear roadmap for the future, energy dissipation”.

Yet, Masselos mentioned the importance of hybrid technology solutions for rural areas where fibre deployment would not be economically viable.

Stakeholders’ view on the GIA

Mitu?a said the Gigabit Infrastructure Act “is a very important piece of legislation because we talk very much about AI, we talk about data economy, but all of this is not possible without having the necessary infrastructure”, explaining that the legislation was “the centrepiece of the economy of tomorrow”.

Panellists agreed with the rapporteur’s view, while Masselos concluded that “the European Union will be in a leadership position worldwide” if, thanks to this legislation, it reached its connectivity targets by 2030.

This article follows the EURACTIV-organised policy debate “Gigabit Infrastructure Act: A global leadership opportunity for the EU?” supported by GIGAEurope.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]

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