Red tape and trench digging could cost up to 80pc of Digital Agenda rollout

13 Nov 2012

In revealing measures to ensure the European Commission’s 2020 Digital Agenda targets of 100Mbps broadband connectivity for 50pc of Europe’s population can be reached, a new study indicates that 80pc of the cost of deploying broadband in EU countries is due to civil works, such as digging trenches.

Achieving the European Commission’s Digital Agenda targets of 100Mbps for 50pc of the EU population by 2020 is already revealing in terms of the scale of various national ambitions. Finland wants 100pc of its population to be within reach of 100Mbps by 2015, Ireland, on the other hand ‘hopes’ more than 50pc of its population will get between 70Mbps and 100Mbps by 2015.

Mindful that getting telecoms companies, ministers and regulators to do the right things is like herding cats, the European Commission recently commissioned Analysys Mason to conduct a study that outlines the measures countries can adopt to meet the EU targets.

The targets are 100Mbps or faster for 50pc of every country’s population and no less than 30Mbps elsewhere.

How Europe will eventually get to total broadband

The Analysys Mason study – based on interviews with stakeholders, regulators and others – outlined five measures nations need to take to reduce cost and administrative burdens.

These include:

  • Compiling an atlas of passive infrastructure – (translation: the miles and miles of dormant fibre and ducting strewn across a land – aka, stuff not being used, including dark fibre and ducting under roadways; we have tons of this in Ireland)
  • Mandated access to passive infrastructure (translation: civil servants and town councillors need to get the finger out and let operators access the unused stuff)
  • A one-stop-shop for rights of way and administrative procedures (translation: an entity that will cut through red tape and send non-co-operative pencil pushers away with fleas in their ears)
  • A database in which all planned civil works must be published (translation: a new concept in this country: accountability!)
  • An obligation that all new buildings are equipped with 100Mbps internet access, as well as mandated open access to the terminating segment (translation: every operator can access a new building with fibre).

The study points out that in some countries, these measures will prove simple enough to introduce while in others the centralised atlas of passive infrastructure could be expensive and difficult to implement.

I’m not so sure about the latter point, I’ve seen lots of maps of fibre infrastructure owned by entities such as ESB, Bord Gais, CIE, and not to mention the National Roads Authority. It reveals a lot, to say I first laid eyes on such maps in 2000.

“It is widely accepted that civil works, such as digging trenches, account for up to 80pc of broadband deployment costs,” Matt Yardley, a partner at Analysys Mason and lead author of the study explained.

“By implementing measures that aim to reduce the amount of civil works required, eg, by encouraging the sharing of existing passive infrastructure, it is likely that the overall cost of deploying new networks can be reduced,” Yardley said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years