(a) and (b) Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
(a) Commission Communication: Connectivity for a Competitive Digital Single Market — Towards a European Gigabit Society
(b) Commission Communication: 5G for Europe: An Action Plan
Culture, Media and Sport
(a) (38087), 12364/16 + ADD 1, COM(16) 587;
(b) (38081), 12279/16 + ADD 1, COM(16) 588
11.1As part of its wider Digital Single Market Strategy, the Commission has proposed a wide-ranging telecoms package that is intended to promote internet connectivity across the EU and participation in the digital economy.
11.2The Communication sets out the background, including the rationale for the package and the EU’s three new strategic objectives for telecommunications connectivity by 2025, puts three legislative proposals forming part of the package into context and outlines parallel non-legislative action that the Commission will be taking.
11.3The non-legislative measures include a 5G Action Plan—intended to facilitate a coordinated approach to the early deployment of 5G (the fifth generation of wireless communication systems) across the EU—which is outlined in more detail in the Background section below.
11.4The three legislative proposals are:
11.5The Code and BEREC Regulation—intended to facilitate increased investment in internet connectivity—are considered further in a separate chapter to this Report. The WiFi4EU Regulation was considered in a previous Report chapter.
11.6This Communication sets the context of an ambitious overhaul of EU telecoms rules, which is intended to promote and facilitate connectivity and boost the EU’s competitiveness. It gives the broader context for legislative proposals that we consider in more detail in other Report chapters.
11.7The Government is generally supportive of the non-legislative measures proposed by the Commission, including the 5G Action Plan. We are therefore content to clear all non-legislative documents from scrutiny and draw them to the attention of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in view of previous inquiries and ongoing work on the UK Digital Economy and UK connectivity.
Commission Communication: Connectivity for a Competitive Digital Single Market — Towards a European Gigabit Society: (38087), 12364/16 + ADD 1, COM(16) 587; (b) Commission Communication: 5G for Europe: An Action Plan: (38087), 12279/16 + ADD 1, COM(16) 588.
11.8In its Digital Single Market Strategy of May 2015, the Commission stated that it would review the EU’s Telecoms Framework in order to facilitate investment in the infrastructure necessary to support connectivity.
11.9On 14 September, the Commission adopted a set of initiatives and legislative proposals to place the EU at the forefront of internet connectivity. The non-legislative initiatives are summarised below.
11.10The Commission’s strategy proposes measures to encourage the ‘availability and take-up of very high capacity networks [which] enable[s] the widespread use of products, services and applications in the Digital Single Market’.
11.11The three main strategic objectives for 2025 are:
11.12The Communication provides an overview of the three legislative proposals, the 5G Action Plan and other non-legislative measures.
11.13As part of the non-legislative measures the Commission will encourage Member States to:
The Commission also commits to:
11.145G is not yet a standardised technology but can deliver Gigabit speeds wirelessly.
11.15This Communication presents actions to be taken by the Commission, Member States and/or industry stakeholders in order to facilitate public and private investment in 5G infrastructure and the effective development and introduction of 5G wireless technologies. These include:
11.16The Minister of State for Digital and Culture (Matthew Hancock MP) is generally supportive of non-legislative actions set out in the Commission’s strategy:
“The government supports the Commission’s vision for a Gigabit society and sees an increasingly fibre-based network, and the rapid development of 5G as key parts of this vision. The three strategic objectives outlined in the Communication are therefore welcomed appropriate reference points for planning national strategies and benchmarks against which progress can be assessed.
“Public sector investment
“The government welcomes the Commission’s call to look to financial instruments other than grant funding to drive the delivery of digital networks. “It is essential that private investment supports the rollout of networks as far as possible, and the government is in agreement that direct grant funding should be minimised. The flexibility of the approach outlined in the Communication is welcomed, as is the creation of a European Broadband Fund.
“The government also welcomes the Commission’s decision to apply the ‘step change’ approach to Broadband State Aid Guidelines when considering the transition to ultra-fast or fibre-based connections, and concurs that measures which distort competition as little as possible must be favoured.
“National Broadband Plan reviews
“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is currently working on a new Digital Strategy which will set out the government’s vision for the UK’s digital future. The UK has also made significant progress with the rollout of Superfast broadband, and is on track to reach its target of 95% coverage by the end of 2017. The government therefore welcomes the Commission’s plans to assess progress and its call for updated plans.
“Establishment of Broadband Platform for cross sector engagement and cooperation
“The government has been encouraging the localised ownership of innovative networks and applications, for example through the Super Connected Cities Programme. The government therefore welcomes the foundation of a forum within which public authorities of different kinds and scales can build relationships with private partners and benefit from support and expertise.
“Establishment of Broadband Competency Offices
“The government recognises the importance of European Strategic Investment Funds for broadband projects and therefore supports the
“Broadband Cost Reduction Directive evaluation by 1st July 2018.
“The UK has now implemented the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive and therefore welcomes the Commission’s plan to evaluate the impact of these changes in 2018.
“Regarding the non-legislative measures to ensure wider access to content across the EU, the Government supports targeted and evidence-based reforms and believes a well-functioning Digital Single Market should support consumer choice, business growth, and ensure creators and rightholders are paid for use of their works.”
11.17The Minister is generally supportive of the non-legislative proposals as they “will drive the development of 5G, which will have a positive impact across the EU’s public and private sectors”.
11.18He outlines various actions that are already being undertaken to ensure that the UK is competitive in emerging 5G technologies:
“The Government has announced a range of actions to secure the early adoption of 5G and deployment of the required infrastructure. In particular, in its Election Manifesto, the Government committed to enabling the UK to seize a leadership position in the development of 5G technology and standards. DCMS is taking this forward and set up an industry-academia group of experts chaired by the President of the Institute for Engineering and Technology (IET)—the Future Communications Challenge Group (FCCG). The FCCG has completed its report and recommendations, which will be published.
“In Budget 2016, a National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) study was announced into the infrastructure needs of 5G in the UK, with a view to enabling rapid roll-out of 5G when it develops to the stage of deployment. The NIC has taken evidence and will publish its findings before the end of 2016.
“Also in the Budget 2016, the procurement of a trial of a tool for mapping the best sites for 5G infrastructure was announced. The successful bidder for this contract will shortly be announced and demonstration of the mapping tool by the end of March 2017. This is important since higher frequency radio waves will be required to deliver the increased data delivery capacity of 5G. Higher frequency radio waves behave differently to those currently used and the research project will show how they will interact with buildings, trees &c so that infrastructure can be placed to achieve the best coverage.
“Information from the FCCG report, the NIC study and the 5G mapping tool trial will inform the development of a UK 5G Strategy in spring 2017.”
11.19The Minister states that the Government considers the proposal to make provisional spectrum bands available for 5G technologies before the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 as “a positive example of how the EU can create value by bringing member states together (as opposed to legislating)” but that “the EU should resist further harmonisation of spectrum bands for 5G until there is much greater clarity about which bands are likely to achieve global harmonisation, particularly at WRC in 2019”.
11.20The Minister expresses reservations about some other aspects of the proposal. He views the end of 2017 deadline for agreeing on the full set of spectrum bands to be harmonised for the initial deployment of commercial 5G network in Europe as arbitrary; questions the added value of legislative harmonisation, particularly to a fixed timetable; and doubts the value of a single recommended approach for the authorisation of specific 5G bands:
“In Action 3 part 1, the end 2017 cut-off date for a decision appears arbitrary. The Government remains unconvinced of the added value of legislative harmonisation, particularly to a fixed timetable.
“On Action 3 part 2, on principle the Government does not agree that there should be a single recommended approach for the authorisation of specific 5G bands. Authorisation should take into account market conditions in individual member states, informed by the opinions of BEREC and RSPG.”
12 See Tenth Report HC 342-x (2015–16), (25 November 2015) for the final consideration by the Committee of this Communication.
13 BEREC is composed of the heads or nominated high-level representatives of the each Member State NRA with primary responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day operation of the markets for electronic communications networks and services.
14 See Report chapter 2.
9 December 2016