It was reported, that the European Commission’s Vice-President of Digital, Margrethe Vestager, on the 5th May 2020, has urged member states to proceed, and not delay, their 5G spectrum assignments, amidst the challenges that the coronavirus crisis has caused to the industry (https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/vestager-urges-eu-member-states-not-to-backtrack-on-5g/?utm_source=EURACTIV&utm_campaign=023b709d5b-RSS_EMAIL_EN_Daily_Update&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c59e2fd7a9-023b709d5b-114953471).
More specifically, her urge to EU telecoms ministers to “limit as much as possible” any delays to their 5G spectrum assignments, comes as the rollout of 5G mobile networks continues to face setbacks in the EU.
This is evident by the fact that a number of countries, such as Spain, Austria, Portugal, Poland and the Czech Republic, all pushed back their spectrum frequency auctions. During a private video conference meeting on 5th May 2020, Mrs. Vestager stated that they should keep up the pace for 5G spectrum assignments as a means of meeting current timeframe objectives.
The EU goals in the field of next-generation telecommunications include a launch of 5G services in all EU member states by the end of 2020 at the latest, as well as a “rapid build-up” that will ensure “uninterrupted 5G coverage in urban areas and long main transport paths by 2025”, as outlined in the 5G Action Plan for Europe, published in 2016 (https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=17131).
The comments of Mrs. Vestager come as a response to the Croatian Presidency of the European Council, who had called on the Commission, to issue a revised Action Plan for 5G and 6G mobile telecommunications in order to bolster the bloc’s connectivity. However, the Commission has already outlined plans for an updated Action Plan on 5G and 6G in their February Digital Strategy communication (https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/croatian-presidency-pushes-for-new-commission-5g-and-6g-action-plan/).
Moreover, the European Commission will launch a review of its state aid policy, in relation to the public financing and broadband networks across EU member states.
In light of the above, the Vice President relayed to the Ministers, that the guidelines for the public financing of broadband infrastructure that were developed in 2013 need to be updated taking into account the context of the current pandemic (https://www.competitionpolicyinternational.com/vestager-asks-eu-member-states-to-not-backtrack-on-5g/).
It was reported that the European Commission is currently preparing the groundwork for a public consultation and a study on the guidelines, in which could lead to a relaxation of the measures, in order to allow for more public investment into high capacity networks.
Furthermore, the Commission’s digital strategy communication highlighted the importance of updating the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive, aiming to make broadband network deployment more cost-efficient.
It should also be noted that telecoms ministers reached “broad agreement” for a coordinated approach on coronavirus contact tracing applications on Tuesday, 5th May 2020, although the French had adopted their own approach of a centralised model of data storage as part of the operation of such apps (https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/vestager-urges-eu-member-states-not-to-backtrack-on-5g/?utm_source=EURACTIV&utm_campaign=023b709d5b-RSS_EMAIL_EN_Daily_Update&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c59e2fd7a9-023b709d5b-114953471).
In this vein, a readout from this week’s meeting of EU telecoms ministers said that “ministers came to an understanding that the contact tracing apps would have high importance for the gradual relaxation of various national measures, including opening of borders” (https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/digital-brief-summer-not-lost/).
The above mentioned position of telecoms ministers, comes after EU interior ministers recently noted the importance of coordinating the use of such contact tracing apps, because they “could contribute to easing or abolishing internal border checks and [the] potential lifting of entry restrictions on the external Union borders”.