Fibre networks are the networks of the future, helping to achieve the European connectivity goals. Towns and cities have an important role to play to stimulate the roll-out of such networks. For the operator concerned rolling out a fibre network means a once-only extensive investment project, ensuring connectivity for the inhabitants of your town or city for many years to come. In that sense this type of roll-out is different from (reparation) works in other utilities, which are usually carried out at very specific locations and not over such a big area. The BIPT can only encourage towns or cities to take this into account and to be flexible when implementing the administrative procedures.
On this page the BIPT collects a number of recommendations and best practices for local bodies to encourage the smooth roll-out of fibre networks as much as possible. The BIPT stresses that these recommendations do not affect the proper observance of the existing legislation (including the one on the website under the heading "Permit procedures"), and that they aim to encourage the use of the room for manoeuvre enshrined in the applicable regional regulations and conferred on each city or municipality.
Those recommendations are:
- Implementing the European Code with respect to permit procedures
- Taking into account the nature of the fibre roll-out when coordinating infrastructure works
- Applying flexibility when implementing freeze periods
- Providing for sufficient transparency on permit procedures
- Keeping permit procedures as simple as possible, possibly extended to larger zones
- Assessing the proportionality when issuing a permit
Implementing the European Code with respect to permit procedures
For starters, the BIPT would like to draw your attention to the provisions in the The European Electronic Communications Code (see the page on Europe and fibre). In Article 43 of this Code Europe imposes to ensure that permits can be applied for on the basis of simple, efficient, transparent and publicly available procedures. A decision regarding such an application should in any case be finalised within six months, ensuring a non-discriminatory and fast implementation.
Taking into account the nature of the fibre roll-out when coordinating infrastructure works
Belgium has an extensive legislation regarding the coordination of infrastructure works by (utility) providers. The coordination of such infrastructure work has been included in the BCRD EU Directive as well (see the page on the BCRD). This Directive aims to facilitate and to encourage the roll-out of high-speed electronic communications networks by enabling a more efficient roll-out of new physical infrastructure in order to make it possible for these networks to be rolled out faster and at a lower cost.
It had best be monitored that such a coordination procedure does not result in exactly the opposite situation, increasing the cost and roll-out time. That could indeed be the case with the current regulation if stricter technical requirements were to apply for the roll-out of other utility infrastructure or if the obligation for joint roll-out causes considerable delays due to waiting times for the other utility operator to be ready before being able to start the work.
Although the coordination obligation was implemented more broadly in the Belgian legislation than in this European Directive, the BIPT does want to refer to Article 5.2 of the BCRD stipulating that these requests for coordination have to be granted provided that they do not result in additional costs (costs due to additional delays included) compared to the civil works originally planned.
Therefore, the BIPT would like to ask local authorities to take into account the specific character of fibre deployment compared to another utility infrastructure (water, gas or electricity), e.g. by reconsidering the waiting periods (as far as possible within the regional regulatory framework) or by not creating additional requirements or delays with the intention of making a fibre operator wait until another utility operator renovates its infrastructure later on.
Applying flexibility when implementing freeze periods
Following certain works, sometimes a freeze period of 2 to 5 years applies during which no more works may be executed at that location. The BIPT understands that the authorities in charge want to limit the inconvenience caused as much as possible. However, there is a different logic behind the efficient and relatively swift roll-out of new fibre networks across the entire territory, than is the case with punctual maintenance works at specific locations. In light of the enormous scope of the works to be carried out and of the related investments, the BIPT consequently recommends to implement these freeze periods with as much flexibility as possible.
Moreover, as regards fibre roll-out multiple operators are active, among which there are also smaller (business) operators. Their situation cannot be compared to the historical situation when a number of (large) telecom operators, originating from government bodies, ran their network. In light of the large number of municipalities and the possibly large number of meetings treating infrastructure works, it is sometimes difficult for (smaller) telecom operators to remain informed at all times of all works planned, in which case freeze periods might cause distortion of competition.
Providing for sufficient transparency on permit procedures
An important factor to facilitate fibre roll-out is to issue permits in a non-discriminating and transparent manner. Transparent permit procedures, preferably digital, constitute a major plus for fibre operators wishing to roll-out fibre in a larger area or across a larger distance.
A good practice could also be to align the permit procedures with the adjacent municipalities or cities, in order to bring about a uniform process. In this regard the 'Code nuts', as implemented in Flanders, setting the framework for the general provisions, is a good initiative.
Keeping permit procedures as simple as possible, possibly extended to larger zones
The permit procedures are a complex matter as their specifications may vary strongly at the local level. The BIPT therefore encourages to keep them as simple as possible and to consider a simplification of all administrative details that have come about historically. This could alleviate the workload, both for the municipality and the fibre operator, for instance by providing for a general permit (for a larger area) for which notifications can be done per street.
Simplified permit procedures have a major impact on the smooth roll-out of fibre in your municipality or city.
Assessing the proportionality when issuing a permit
Fibre roll-out is characterised by the fact that it is executed across a large area and by the fact that it entails major investments. It is therefore of the utmost importance for a fibre operator that the roll-out is done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The BIPT wants to encourage cities and municipalities to take this into account and to keep the requirements imposed when issuing a permit in proportion to the works that are actually requested. For instance the roll-out against façades require none (or little) underground work and have less impact on the environment. Should excavation works for instance be required on a small part of the pavement, it would constitute a heavy burden on the operator should he be required to ensure an entirely renewed pavement. The same applies to the stringent demands that are sometimes imposed for the reconstruction of the superstructure (such as specific demands regarding paving or contractors). As a municipality you can therefore play a major part by keeping these demands proportionate.