Less digging and more speed: how Europe plans to get back on the broadband track

Europe’s digital agenda chief, Neelie Kroes, may have lost all her funding for ensuring fast broadband coverage across the continent by 2020, but she’s not giving up hope. Her latest push, unveiled on Tuesday, has two main strands: cutting some of the red tape around deploying 4G masts and antennas, and changing regulations around civil works.

The European Commission reckons  that 80 percent of high-speed network deployment costs relate to civil engineering, mostly digging up roads. For example, it may be that a road is being dug up anyway for the laying of new waterworks or electric cables, and it would be a no-brainer to lay some fiber in there at the same time – however, in many European countries that kind of coordination is not in place, and that’s what Kroes wants to fix.

Kroes maintains that this could take €40-60 billion ($51-77 billion) off the overall cost of deploying fiber-based broadband in Europe. She also wants rules that would ensure that newly-built or renovated buildings are equipped to receive fiber directly to the premises, and to mandate reasonably-priced open access conditions on infrastructure such as ducts and poles.

On the mobile front, Kroes says permits for new masts and antennas should be granted or refused within six months. Her office is painting all of these changes as cuts to red tape. While this interpretation may be debatable, as some of the changes would actually involve new rules, the overall result would at least be one of more efficient bureaucracy.

“Everyone deserves fast broadband. I want to burn the red tape that is stopping us for getting there,” Kroes said in a statement. “The European Commission wants to make it quicker and cheaper to get that broadband.”

Kroes’s Digital Agenda office intends to see, by 2020, that everyone in Europe has access to at least 30Mbps broadband, and that half the EU is able to surf at 100Mbps or more. She recently threw €50 million in the direction of “5G” research, so that mobile can carry more of the load in meeting those goals.