Friday, June 08, 2012

EU consultation on reducing NGA deployment costs

The EU is currently consulting on ways to reduce NGA deployment costs, in order to encourage greater investment and faster roll-outs:
"The cost is so high because of a lack of coordination of civil engineering projects, insufficient re-use of existing infrastructure and lack of cooperation between the various actors. For example, water, energy, and railway companies often have their own infrastructure, and dig up roads without coordinating with telecoms companies. Faster roll-out is then further impeded by lengthy, non-transparent and cumbersome procedures for clearing rights of way and obtaining all necessary permits at national or local level."
From the consultation document:
"One of the often cited reasons for investment shortfalls are high costs in today's difficult financial climate. According to current estimates, it could cost more than 200 billion EUR to bring high speed Internet to all Europeans in line with the agreed Digital Agenda targets. However, several studies suggest that up to 80% of total investment costs are related to civil infrastructure works. Moreover, a substantial part of this high cost (possibly up to 30%) can be attributed to inefficiencies in the roll-out process, for example because of a lack of coordination of civil engineering projects, insufficient re-use of existing infrastructure, a lack of cooperation between utilities. Faster roll-out can be further impeded by lengthy, non transparent and often cumbersome procedures for clearing rights of way and obtaining all necessary permits at national or local level."
Current circumstances also impede cross-border investments, in relation to the EU's ambitions for a digital single market:
"This emerging patchwork of rules at national and sub-national levels perpetuates fragmentation of the single market and leads to investments costs which are much higher than they ought to be. For a company operating on cross-border basis, such a patchwork of rules, procedures and practices at national, regional and even local level drives up costs to a point of challenging the profitability of investments and as such constitutes an important barrier. It is likely to negatively impact companies' ability to invest and reduce any economies of scale in this investment. Inevitably, this reduces competition and reduces consumers' benefits who will end up paying more for their high-speed Internet connection."
The consultation runs until 20th July 2012. These issues were also flagged in an EU working document published in March 2012, examining the implementation of national broadband plans across Europe:
"Building permits and rights of way can be costly in terms of time and resources. Delays compound construction risks and can render projects unprofitable. Streamlining of administrative processes and increasing legal certainty can bring benefits but, so far, there is little trace of these in national broadband plans. Examples: One of the sub-groups of the Irish Government’s Next Generation Broadband Taskforce (NGBT) is examining how best to remove barriers to the roll-out of the physical infrastructure needed for Next Generation Broadband. The barriers identified involve the process and costs surrounding planning applications by network operators and applications to carry out road works associated with telecoms infrastructure. Some countries (e. g. Bulgaria) have set a maximum period of six months for issuing construction permits for electronic communications infrastructure."
As stated above, a number of attempts have been made to address these challenges across Europe, including the implementation of physical infrastructure access (PIA) in the UK. The Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications has published Best Finnish Practices on Joint Construction of Infrastructure Networks, reporting on successes there, while the UK's National Planning Policy Framework published in March 2012 acknowledges the importance of broadband investment: the framework recommends that planning authorities should "support the expansion of electronic communications networks, including telecommunications and high speed broadband". They should not "impose a ban on new telecommunications development in certain areas, impose blanket Article 4 directions over a wide area or a wide range of telecommunications development or insist on minimum distances between new telecommunications development and existing development."

Similarly, the UK Department for Communities and Local Government published a detailed guidance note in 2008 on data ducting infrastructure for new homes, which aimed to "give developers the opportunity to consider the installation of infrastructures within new developments and dwellings to support the later provision of data services by third parties" and "reduce the risk of ‘non-standard infrastructures’ (for example using ad hoc ducting types and topologies) leading to future incompatibility issues within different developments."

Also in 2008, Ofcom published a statement on next generation new build, focusing on how to ensure the right regulatory environment, for example to encourage competition through appropriate wholesale obligations. Finally, in November 2011, the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport published guidance for local authorities on microtrenching and street works which sought to "remove barriers and provide certainty to agree on the best use of innovative deployment technique that is generally cheaper, less disruptive and quicker than conventional dig techniques...(and) to highlight flexibilities in the existing street works regime which could enable more rapid deployment of networks by utilities (including communications providers)."

The current EU consultation is seeking to identify "a coherent set of measures at EU level aimed at significantly reducing the cost, and bringing out efficiencies in the process of rolling out high-speed communication infrastructure across Europe. The main areas of action could be enhancing the re-use of existing (passive) infrastructure, improving transparency and facilitating the coordination of civil engineering works, streamlining administrative procedures involved in permit granting, and ensuring that new buildings are equipped with open, next generation access."

Some of these aspects would seem at least partially addressed by the examples above, though there is clearly more that could be done. It will be interesting to see the consultation's outcomes.

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