The Greek Presidency of the Council of Ministers announced that the Council has reached an informal agreement with MEPs on a new Regulation on measures to reduce the cost of deploying high-speed electronic communications networks. The European Parliament and the Council would have to formally vote on and approve the proposals before they could be introduced into EU law. MEPs are scheduled to vote on the Regulation in April.
The draft Regulation was first published in March 2013 and proposed that every newly constructed building, as well as buildings subject to major renovation, should be "equipped with a high-speed-ready in-building physical infrastructure, up to the network termination points".
The initial proposals, however, gave freedom to individual EU countries to designate certain categories of buildings from the new regime on grounds that "the cost of fulfilling those obligations is disproportionate".
It is not clear yet whether the proposals which have received the informal backing of the Council and MEPs reflect the original proposals or whether there are changes to the carve-out rights of EU member states. However, the European Commission confirmed that the plans that have been supported will ensure that "new or majorly renovated buildings are high-speed-broadband-ready".
Energy expert Simon Hobday of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the default fitting of buildings with equipment for providing high-speed broadband connections could act as an enabler for smart energy networks in years to come.
Hobday said that there is increasing connectivity of household appliances and that a future smart grid is likely to see consumers gain closer control of their energy consumption on the basis of real-time data that those appliances will generate. He said it is to be welcomed that buildings will be high-speed broadband-ready since the data flows on energy consumption in future will need to be supported by significant bandwidth.
"This move will help the installation of infrastructure to drive the adoption of new approaches to the delivery and management of energy and adoption of intelligent energy consumption as part of the smart grid revolution," Hobday said.
The text that has been backed by the Council and MEPs will also open up access to telecoms infrastructure. Generally telecoms operators will be able to use the cables, ducts and other infrastructure installed by rivals on "fair and reasonable terms and conditions", the Commission added.
Under the original plans, owners of the existing infrastructure could challenge rivals' right to share their infrastructure in certain circumstances. They could claim their system is not technically suited to accommodate communicate providers' requests, or that there is insufficient space to host the network "elements" those providers wish to deploy, among other things.
The exact wording of the latest compromise text has not yet been published.
"Broadband networks are the backbone of modern economies," EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes said. "I am pleased to see that the co-legislators agreed on rules which will help reduce the cost of broadband deployment. Such measures will bring high-speed broadband closer to European citizens, not least those living in the most remote areas where deployment is very expensive. It will also mean less digging as the rules enable synergies across the sectors, between telecom operators and utilities."
The Commission has said that 80% of the cost of deploying high-speed broadband networks is accounted for by civil engineering works, such as the digging up of roads to lay cables. It has estimated that companies could save a total of between €40 billion and €60bn if the new Regulation is introduced.