The Federal Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV) intends to align broadband funding more closely with the “progress of private-sector expansion, the existing supply situation” and the recently presented analysis of potential. This can be found in the draft for a new guideline to promote gigabit expansion, which heise online has available. The federal government also wants to set down the guidelines in a key issues paper, with which the BMDV is reacting to the “massive oversubscription” of the previous program and the subsequent application freeze.
Digital Minister Volker Wissing therefore proposes introducing state caps “for the targeted distribution of the funds available for federal funding”. For the city states of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen, a total of 75 million euros should be the limit. A base amount of EUR 100 million is planned for the non-city states, including Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia, which creates compensation if “there are fewer, but more cost-intensive eligible connections to be connected”. The remaining available amount is to be divided in these countries according to the percentage of eligible connections in their total number in Germany. The decisive factor is “the current status of a country’s gigabit expansion”.
New list of criteria for eligibility
According to the planned guideline, which will initially apply until the end of 2025, the federal government will again provide funding of around 3 billion euros from April 2023. Only areas that currently do not have a next-generation broadband network (blank area) or one that does not reliably provide a data rate of at least 200 Mbit/s symmetrically or 500 Mbit/s in download can benefit from public funds ( gray spot). Another condition is that “the planned telecommunications infrastructure” does not reliably supply end customers with a connection with a bandwidth of more than 500 Mbit/s for downloading within the next three years.
According to the draft, the responsible approval authority decides on the eligibility of an application based on a new catalog of criteria. It is about the points “backlog demand” with a high proportion of white spots, “use of synergies” with remaining supply gaps after expansion has already been implemented or promised, “digital participation in rural areas”, i.e. the population density, and cross-community cooperation. Applications from municipalities that have a particular need to catch up on gigabit expansion should “can be applied for and approved at any time” (“Fast Lane”). To do this, at least 300 points must be achieved using the catalogue. The promoters should provide an online scoring calculator for potential applicants.
Funding where the need to catch up is greatest
According to the project, the so-called market investigation procedure will be made more flexible and less binding. If a company interested in expansion cannot prove that pre-marketing has started, the area should be eligible for funding. Municipal industry dialogues are planned in order to better explore the possibilities for self-sufficient expansion. Overall, funding should only be given where “the backlog is greatest”. Wissing wants to strengthen the “operator model” in order to put cities and municipalities in a better position to set up their own network infrastructures and lease them to commercial providers: In future, after the end of the earmarking period, the municipality can keep the passive infrastructure in its hands and thus the operation guarantee. A sale is no longer necessary.
“Basically, the draft goes in the right direction in some respects,” explains the managing director of the industry association VATM, Jürgen Grützner. “But the underlying problem of too little prioritization and too much funding is slowing down fiber rollout and making it more expensive at the same time.” The new guideline does not create “the urgently needed planning security for the rapid self-economic expansion of fiber optic networks by 2030”. In order for an interlocking approach to work in terms of time, a quick, general instrument would have to be used if funding connections fall below a “minor limit”: Relevant applications should be “processed with absolute priority – in the ‘Super Fast Lane'”. The focus on municipal operator models is “absurd” because the market is additionally fragmented. Individual states, on the other hand, have been complaining for a long time about a “scandalous” reduction in funding by the federal government.
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