EC Seeks Ways To Roll Out Cheaper Broadband

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The European Commission opens a public consultation over how to reduce the costs associated with deploying fibre broadband

The European Commission is seeking ways to reduce the costs and end the duplication associated with deploying next generation networks running over fibre.

On Friday, the Commission revealed it had officially opened a public consultation on how to reduce the cost of rolling out high-speed internet.

Public consultation

“High-speed Internet underpins all sectors of the economy and will be the backbone of the Digital Single Market. For every 10 percent increase in the broadband penetration the economy grows by 1 to 1.5 percent,” said the Commission. “In this context the European Commission is seeking views on how to cut the costs of setting up new networks for high speed internet in the EU.”

The Commission said it is targeting the costs associated with civil engineering, such as digging up the road in order to lay fibre cables. This expensive method can account for as much as 80 percent of the total cost of a superfast broadband deployment, and the Commission believes it could cut the cost of broadband investments by a quarter.

To this end, it is seeking input from all interested public and private parties, including telecoms and utility companies.

“We need to cut the engineering costs of rolling out broadband networks if we want to spread faster broadband across Europe,” said European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes in a statement. “We need to test practical ideas on how to cut costs and how to make it easier to access, re-use and share this infrastructure. There is nothing more annoying for citizens than road-digging, and nothing more annoying to businesses than pointless red tape.”

Ducting issue

Kroes wrote  a blog on this subject back in March, when she warned of the risk of too much duplication between various utilities providers digging the road to install their infrastructure.

The reason why the Commission believes that up to 80 percent of the total broadband investment cost is related to civil infrastructure works is because of a lack of coordination of civil engineering projects. This is on top of  insufficient re-use of existing infrastructure and lack of cooperation between the various utility companies.

One of the biggest drawbacks to deploying fibre optic cabling to rural areas is often these regions are connected by a buried copper cable, and it would cost too much to dig a new trench to install a fibre cable. However, this ignores the fact that there is already plenty of ducting in the ground already that could be used.

Most rural areas are connected to the water mains and these pipes could be used to run fibre cables. Likewise railway companies and even the canal system in the UK have their own ducting infrastructure that could be exploited.

In an effort to kick-start ways to open up this infrastructure, the Commission is seeking views on the obstacles to invest in broadband infrastructure; ways of improving the use of current infrastructure; the coordination of civil engineering works; the measures that would increase coordination between competent authorities and simplify permit procedures, and finally the ‘readiness’ of new buildings for high speed internet infrastructure.

The public consultation runs until 20 July 2012.

EC Broadband

Last October the Commission confirmed to Techweek Europe it was planning to invest billions to roll out high-speed broadband across the European Union. This decision followed on from the the European Commission adoption of a package of measures in September 2010 as part of its Digital Agenda, which was designed to give every European access to basic broadband by 2013, and fast and ultra-fast broadband (30Mbps or above) by 2020.

The EC said it would invest €9.2 billion (£8bn) across Europe, to ensure that these 2020 goals can actually be met.

The issue of ducting access has proven to be a somewhat controversial issue in the UK. BT agreed with Ofcom in February 2010 to open its ducting to rival service providers. However, some ISPs initially criticised BT over the prices it would charge to access BT’s ducting. BT subsequently lowered the charges.

However, Ofcom confirmed last year that Virgin Media does not have to open its ducting to rival companies.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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