The European Commission will shelve its long-awaited recommendation to boost investment in optical fibre networks, at least until the end of the year, an EU official told EURACTIV.
“I would be surprised if the recommendation on Next Generation Networks (NGN) was adopted before December,” Martin Selmayr, spokesperson for Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, told EURACTIV.
Selmayr explained that the recommendation is linked to the wider telecoms package, which is currently on hold following a row between the Parliament and member states on protecting users’ rights over the Internet (EURACTIV 07/05/09).
Despite being a non-binding document, the recommendation is considered crucial by the industry to guarantee legal certainty and favour investment in optical fibre networks, the backbone of the high-speed Internet.
Brussels issued draft guidelines in September 2008 suggesting that the best way to spur investment in this key infrastructure was to guarantee a premium rate to compensate for the risk undertaken by investors. In other words, an operator would have to pay a higher fee to use the network of a competitor that has deployed the fibres (EURACTIV 19/09/08).
On the other hand, the draft document suggested that the owner of the network should not refuse access to other operators willing to offer competitive services. The logic behind this provision is a desire to prevent the creation of new monopolies, which hamper competition and ultimately affect consumers.
After lengthy negotiations, the Parliament and the Council informally backed this approach. A compromise text called for guaranteeing network access for competitors by taking into account the risk incurred by the investor.
However, the collapse of the telecoms deal at the beginning of May risks reopening delicate negotiations, undermining the agreement reached on NGNs too.
France clamps down on Internet abuse
The stand-off at European level over the telecoms package did not prevent the French parliament from finally adopting this week the controversial Hadopi law, which seeks to clamp down on illegal downloading over the Internet.
The package’s approval collapsed because MEPs wanted to clearly state that Internet connections could be suspended only after the intervention of a judicial authority. Instead, the French law will give this power to a new, non-judicial authority.
However, Reding did not see any incompatibility problems between the French law and the telecoms package as it has been approved by the Parliament. “An amendment to a European directive cannot change the sharing of competences between the EU and the member states. What I don’t like politically is not always illegal,” she said.
Optical fibre backbones are considered the future of telecommunications infrastructure, because they allow a faster and wider transmission of data in comparison to current largely copper-based networks. Fibres are at the core of so-called 'Next Generation Networks' (NGNs).
Fibre networks have been deployed slowly across the EU so far, covering a marginal share of national markets. NGNs today only account for around one million subscribers in the EU, in comparison to three million in the US and 11 million in the most-developed Asian countries, mainly Japan and South Korea.
Investment in Europe is currently low. To upgrade EU networks, at least 300 billion euros of investment will be necessary, according to estimates by McKinsey, a consulting company.