While we await the imminent proposals for Digital Britain, the European Commission is moving forward with proposals to apply a consistent regulatory approach across Europe for investment in next generation access networks based on fibre-optics.

The European Commission is consulting on its revised proposals for the regulation of Next Generation Access or NGA broadband networks, in the form of a draft recommendation that is expected to be adopted by the end of 2009.

The aim is to achieve a common regulatory framework to encourage investment in next generation access networks while maintaining a competitive market and ensuring consistent application of regulation throughout the European Union, to facilitate cross-border investment and consolidate the internal market for electronic communications.

“For consumers and businesses to be able to reap the benefits of competitive very high speed broadband services, we need a common pan-European regulatory approach to NGA broadband networks,” said European Union competition commissioner Neelie Kroes. “This consultation will help to ensure that the Commission Recommendation gives the necessary legal certainty to encourage large scale investment in new fibre infrastructure for very fast broadband internet services while safeguarding effective access to NGA networks for competitors.”

The Commission hopes to develop a common pan-European regulatory approach, which telecoms regulators would adapt to national market conditions.

“In order to give citizens and businesses across Europe access to fast broadband internet, very large sums of private and also public money will need to be injected in the coming years,” said telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding. “Investors therefore need to know the rules of the game. The aim is to provide legal certainty for all players by providing national regulators across Europe with clear guidance on the regulatory approach to be taken.”

The approach proposed by the Commission aims at driving infrastructure-based competition where possible and practical.

One suggestion to foster market-driven investment is for co-investment schemes in which a dominant operator could lay multiple fibres to allow access to other operators and qualify for less stringent regulatory obligations. The deployment of multiple fibres costs little more but from the outset allows infrastructure completion, facilitating sharing of the physical network while maintaining independence between operators.

William Cooper of informitv will be chairing the third annual Broadband Connect Summit in London on 16 June 2009.