By Joakim Reiter, Chief External Affairs Officer, Vodafone
Bureaucracy and red tape pose a serious threat to the European Commission meeting its own bold targets for Europe’s Digital Decade. There is widespread agreement that high-speed, reliable connectivity are critical to enable Europe’s digital ambitions. The need is clear - so the question remains why does the European Union allow process and obstacles to delay the installation of the modern digital infrastructure that Europe desperately needs?
“Red tape” such as bureaucratic procedures as well as outdated and inconsistent rules are having serious negative consequences for telcos like Vodafone, subjected to lengthy delays and additional costs when trying to secure permission to put in place critical digital infrastructure.
We know that red tape is not unique to the telecoms sector. In the energy sector for example, the heads of governments in Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, and Belgium earlier this year signed an offshore wind pact worth €135 billion to accelerate urgent renewable energy measures. With a pressing need to move faster in the critical area of energy supply, these four countries called on the EU to simplify processes and speed up permit procedures at an EU level, in line with the European Commission’s own REPowerEU plan.
Telecommunications have the same urgent needs from the EU.
A new 2022 Digital Deployment Index (DDI) conducted by Frontier Economics on behalf of Vodafone calls out why and how countries across Europe are experiencing delays in the rollout of next generation fixed and mobile networks. It also offers potential solutions.
First, policies and regulations need to be fit for purpose to enable the investment needed to help Europe ‘level up’ digitally. The Broadband Cost Reduction Directive (BRCD) is one such policy that needs an overhaul.
It currently takes between five and eight months on average to obtain permits for access to macro mobile sites, despite BCRD setting out a maximum four-month timeframe. In countries such as Czechia, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, it can take more than a year. That’s more than double the guideline of the BCRD. In contrast, Ireland issues permits for rooftop site installations on the same day. We see other countries taking steps to reduce approval times, but progress is slow, lethargic, and still too complicated.
In addition, every country has its own permit process with differences between national, regional, and local authorities. There is no EU wide consistency. Permit rejections have no clear guidance, no appeals or dispute resolution. 15-20% of permit applications to lay down fibre are rejected.
Second, governments – at all levels and in a more coherent and comprehensive way – must roll up their sleeves to cut and remove the unwieldly maze of permit, procedures and rules that are putting their OWN digital objectives at risk.
Third, delays affect the roll out of mobile broadband in rural and remote areas, a key element of the levelling up strategy for Europe. Delays also introduce more costs for operators at a time of high inflation.
For example, the DDI shows a mash up of policies across Europe negatively affecting building costs and a decrease in subsidies in some markets. The cost for permits in Greece, Hungary, Albania, Romania, Portugal, and Italy range between €2.5K-€5.5K while in in Czechia permits are less than €100 and in Ireland permits for rooftop mobile sites are free.
What’s the answer?
Vodafone stands ready to do our part to build the digital infrastructure. We are here to help and to support the European Union meet its Digital Decade targets vital to citizens and underpinning Europe’s competitiveness and influencer position in the world.
But we and the telco sector need simplicity, consistency, and speed.
The upcoming Connectivity Infrastructure Act (CIA) gives the European Union a tangible and credible solution to banish red tape and address the issues of bureaucracy, delays, inconsistency, and costs for operators.
Accelerating the deployment of high-speed networks across Europe is an EU wide challenge and opportunity. Its importance means it cannot be left to national, regional, or local authorities to figure it out on their own, to make their own way or deprioritise.
By being the clear, harmonised EU-wide framework, binding and mandatory for all EU Member states, the CIA is the lifeline for the long overdue and much needed simplicity, consistency, and speed.
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