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Crowdsourcing ideas to reduce the costs of broadband rollout

staff's picture
Submitted by staff on Wed, 2012-05-02 09:03

On April 27th, the EC launched a public consultation seeking views on how to cut the costs of setting up new networks for high speed internet in the EU. In particular, the Commission wants to explore how to reduce the costs associated with civil engineering, such as the digging up of roads to lay down fibre, and which can account for as much as 80% of the total cost. The Commission believes it could cut the cost of broadband investments by a quarter.

This discussion space, set up in the context of the Digital Agenda Assembly, aims to generate the maximum number of good ideas about initiatives to cut those costs. It accompanies the official consultation by encouraging the submission of unstructured ideas and more out-of-the-box thinking.
Possible measure include for example better use of existing infrastructure; enhancing transparency and coordination of civil engineering works ; better handling of requests to roll-out networks ; ensuring ready-for-NGA-access buildings.

We invite you to share your knowledge about:

  • What are possible initiatives that could be taken?
  • What are the most inspiring example that have already taken place?

The ideas with more "interesting!" votes will be presented and discuss at the Digital Agenda Assembly.

So add your idea in the comments below, and vote for the most interesting one!

Group audience: 
8 users have voted.


conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Thu, 2012-05-03 12:20

Here is one interesting initiative that could be replicated, especially in the UK where there is currently a hosepipe ban in the South... MUSCAT — "Haya Water is participating in Comex 2012 to demonstrate how it is using its ongoing water reuse project to simultaneously cover tens of thousands of homes and offices across the Muscat Governorate area with leading edge Fibre to the Home (FTTH) technology.
Working in partnership with Oman’s leading telecom providers, Haya Water is ensuring it can maximise the benefits of its ongoing tunnelling work to ensure that modern fibre optic cables can be installed alongside new pipelines that the company is installing across Muscat.
This represents a hugely cost-effective opportunity for the licensed operators to ensure they are able to connect more than 110,000 properties by 2018 and minimise disruption to the general public as additional construction works will not be required in the future for the FTTH systems to be installed."

5 users have voted.

JohanCamp's picture
Submitted by JohanCamp on Fri, 2012-05-04 22:02

That's indeed still a very interesting paper, Efstratios. I also looked at a case recently where reusing gas pipes was a very interesting economical option. Not readily available at the time but interesting to add to the alternatives are wireless gigabit ("air fiber") connections. Not fast enough to be part of the backbone yet, but might prove to be an interesting option for the 'last mile'.
In general, I would make it obligatory to put tubes in the ground when major (road) works are planned or executed. These can in a later stage be used to blow fiber through them.
Next to it, it can be interesting to 'support' investments in fiber. This could go from a minimum investment per year over subsidies for these projects to tax cuts for these types of investments.

1 user has voted.

michaelmulquin's picture
Submitted by michaelmulquin on Sat, 2012-05-05 20:59

In terms of streetworks, this is clearly a very important thing to get right. It is something which could be sorted out fairly easily with very little cost to the public purse, as it would then provide a very attractive opportunity for private investment. A small investment of time and resources now would save a significant part of the cost of rolling out next generation broadband infrastructure.
What else needs to be dealt with, apart from the simple issue of co-ordination?
• There needs to be a way of identifying what ducting needs to be laid. Is the route likely to be needed by a major piece of trunking, or is it likely to be a side route linking just a few premises? Is there a need to lay several separate ducts to allow them to be used by a number of different Communication providers? What criteria are needed to make these decisions?
• There needs to be a methodology to ensure that provision is made for the later branching off of further ducting, and links to street cabinets and chambers.
• There needs to be a way of ensuring that whichever agency is digging the trenches would undertake the extra work of laying the ducts and do so according to the correct standards – should they be paid for this, and if so, how should the payment be calculated? Or is there any other incentive that might be used?
• The ducting itself needs to be paid for and clarity is needed as to who should do this
• Following on from this, there needs to be clarity regarding who would own the ducting and manage it longer term. Should this be a local company or a national agency? Should it be a fully commercial entity or, for instance, a Community Interest Company? How could this agency be set up or regulated?
• There needs to be clarity and consistency regarding under what conditions the ducting could be provided to communication providers for laying their own fibre. Should ownership be retained, with the ducting simply leased out, to ensure that there would be long term benefit for the local area, or should the ducting be sold? Should there be requirements that any fibre laid should be on an open access basis?
These issues need to be clarified urgently to ensure that we don’t miss the ongoing opportunities to exploit the opportunities that streetworks provide to facilitate the roll out of NGA in the UK.
Once this is done, it would be a very attractive opportunity for private sector investment, providing that a clear process and framework was set up. The comparatively low capital cost of the ducting and the very small ongoing management cost for looking after it could be easily recouped at a good profit, once the ducting is used, while still enabling the laying of fibre at a much lower cost than if new digging was required.
For example, the ducting could be installed and managed by a local public private partnership, or Community Interest Company to ensure that the developing infrastructure was an asset used for the benefit of local people, while using investment from agencies such as pension funds that are looking for long-term, reliable investment opportunities – an even more important concern with the present global financial situation.

1 user has voted.

conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Sun, 2012-05-06 11:34

Who do the roads belong to?
The people. We pay our taxes to keep them fit for purpose.
The ducts should be laid in every road, and also belong to the people. It may take a lot of years to come to fruition, but should be standard policy. Ducting is cheap. Every road crossing dig should have a compulsory duct installed by whoever is doing the dig. The duct used could be subducted, so different people can lease different ducts without impacting on any other users.
Subducts could be sold? Main ducts leased. Over the years this will start to add up into a nice bit of income for whoever is in charge of the roads, and it could then go to reduce the taxation to maintain the surfaces. Win win. Now how to encourage some joined up thinking?

1 user has voted.

Submitted by Peter on Mon, 2012-05-07 21:11

Joined up thinking, how long for joined up ducts? Many, many years and not a good investment. Duct may be cheap, but digging is not and you are asking for a trench to be wider and who picks up the cost?

0 users have voted.

andrew's picture
Submitted by andrew on Tue, 2012-06-19 13:52

Also roadworks are very rarely contiguous so you would end up with lots of different ducts offset at different depths and locations.

Trench widths would increase, as the ducting cannot be above gas/mains/water, as that makes maintenance of them harder, ever watched them trying to repair something where utilities cross over.

If we want FTTH cheap and their is an overriding need, then we could just accept fibre over telegraph poles.

0 users have voted.

Submitted by Peter on Mon, 2012-05-07 21:17

Is there really any demand for this. There are many companies with code powers to lay their own ducts. And if just one provider wants it let them pay and they can rent space out to others.

1 user has voted.

Submitted by Eduard Falco on Wed, 2012-05-30 17:40

Just a comment, because in Catalonia, Regional Government of Spain, we did it. First battle was to convince our colleagues of public work to built ducts when they deploy civil work. It took 2 years!!!! Our civil engineers colleagues were hard to convince that the costs incremental was marginal. Their business is to make roads, not telecom, so, that was a cultural problem, not technical. Later on we should agree about the standards (you need standards agreed with the market, the operators, to ensure it will be useful for the market), we did it WITH the market and we published them in the web, because perhaps other local entities can reuse them (it is different for a higway than for a little road). After that we should agree also the "rights to pass" and other minor items (but importants!). Then we launch a public procurement to concession that infraestructures and offer them to the market to fix prices (agreed between the private agent which comercializes the ducts/fibre and the Government;, the commercializations is done under Open Network premises).
As you know roads are planned in 10 or 20 years plan, and now we have the results. Our colleagues of civil work have planned more than 1.000Km, we started in 2007, so, I think that the problem to install ducts in roads is:
- Cultural problem (convince civil engineers they are building the country, including telecom).
- Organizational: How to put into the market that network that is not coherent, who do the maintenance,...
- Legal: Minor problem, it can be solved, the others are the important ones.
- LEADERSHIP: You need a convinced Government action, leadership.
Well, that's our experience. Naturally, now in Catalonia (and Spain) not a big number of public works are done ;-(, but, at least, we have the engine to have a long term solution. Using the public work to create an open network.

2 users have voted.

conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Wed, 2012-05-30 22:25

That is excellent forethought and planning! If only every government had started this years ago...
...but its never too late. This is a lesson that should be taken on board. Thanks for posting it!

0 users have voted.

Submitted by Peter on Sun, 2012-05-06 02:01

This idea of adding telecomms duct alongside new roadworks has come up before. Apart from the obvious question of who pays for it, how long would it be until a useful route from A to B appeared? Despite what it seems there are not that many relevant roadworks happening and it could take many years to achieve anything useful.

1 user has voted.

ferencjacobs's picture
Submitted by ferencjacobs on Tue, 2012-05-08 16:05

I think this discussion is not only about reducing costs when it comes to technique. Broadband rollout is expensive, the reducing of costs by using different technical methods or materials will never decrease prices that much. Companies like Prysmian innovate constantly to put more cables per duct etc. so there are many achievements made already.

Look at it in a more social way: investments in passive and active layers can benefit to the society in stead of boardrooms of telecomoperators. If the deploying creates local economy and contributes to local engagement, then you have a valuable network. If network owners, service providers, operators and consumers think in a non-traditional way and split up the traditional roles in the telecomsector, a fully open network makes way for local innovation and economy.

That economy and innovation should be the motor for government loans to businesses and house-owners with a long term ROI. A decent revenu sharing business model, like the Swedish OpenNet model (which my company iipen and partners are deploying in the Netherlands at this moment) is the most healthy way for affordable broadband. Sharing cost and revenu should make broadband for everyone possible and affordable.

2 users have voted.

Wispa limited's picture
Submitted by Wispa limited on Wed, 2012-05-09 12:47

Here is how we think about this process:
1. The installation is not expensive - it requires high levels of investment. There is a significant difference between something that takes a lot of money, and something that is expensive.
2. Civil works are only costly in isolation. The reason that civil works are constantly 're-done' is that there is no requirement (or incentive) for the various initiators of civil works to co-operate. If for example there were only 6 times a year (excluding emergencies) that roadway civil works could take place, we'd all see remarkable co-operation...
3. When a Government is led by the principal players in a market space, it is their views that are expressed and considered, rather than the view that may be less well funded, but better informed.
4. Social engineering is brilliant at a local level, but does not scale to a national level
5. Income derived from co-operative working is cooperatively earned, but sadly it is rarely evenly shared - this is a barrier to cooperation
6. Models that exist and are failing must be broken in order for there to be a step change - trying to 'massage' an existing model rarely causes anything, but new cost.

3 users have voted.

Vlad Gurman's picture
Submitted by Vlad Gurman on Mon, 2012-05-14 09:28

The discussion is not only about reducing costs, it's about reducing costs significantly. Without significantly reduced cost of fiber installation in ducts in every region of a country, a lot of regions will remain fiber-free zones. Also it's a question of a last-mile solution to end user. FTTH, sponsored by ISP? Not in a rural areas. Not to a private house. Private User can't pay so much for FTTH installations.
From more then 15 years of experience in Internet Solution field, we can be pretty sure that:
1. It's hard to make ISPs to cooperate and do some co-operative workings in ducts. Even after THE CRISIS.
2. Also it's very hard to make ISP share its infrastructure with others. It's a question of competition. Even Regulator can't do (or don't want to do) anything with it.
3. Of course, there are some technical solutions to install fiber with a pipelines of all kind (water, for example). But it's local project for a street, for a city, but not for a country.

We must think GLOBAL.

And thinking global means Open-Access Network, which is owned by neutral side, not ISP. In that point of view, civil engineering will help a lot, because it will be one network, which will be shared to all ISP and civil engineering will help to reduce a costs of this OAN in places, where engineering works are planned. But it means cooperation on a high level between this OAN owner, local municipalities, governmental institutions and other involved organizations

1 user has voted.

pdfoley's picture
Submitted by pdfoley on Tue, 2012-05-15 14:26

The preceding comments cover a number of different cost saving areas. Tech4i2 are currently working on a project with Deloitte that has developed a typography of cost reduction methods and examples of where an how these have been implemented. The key categories are:-

1. Civil infrastructure databases and atlases containing information on the geographical location and available capacity of ducts, poles and other passive infrastructure. To enable efficient construction, use and/or sharing of existing infrastructure, relevant organisations need to know what types of infrastructure has been put in place and where it is located.

2. Access to infrastructures owned by entities outside the telecom sector (e.g. public domain, utility sectors and railways) for the purpose of facilitating broadband deployment. Passive infrastructure includes transmission towers, tower sites, and underground facilities such as ducts, sewers and utility cabling. Significant savings on access vs. new build have been reported.

3. Streamlining of permit granting processes. Not many EU States have streamlined processes or have mandated access. Probably the most notable example is the Parisian sewer network. The City of Paris leases space in the sewers for telecoms and other services, largely avoiding the need for expensive and disruptive street works.

4. Coordination of civil works. This includes joint deployment of infrastructures by Telecom operators and investors from other sectors (co-deployment; e.g. power and other utilities) as well as by several Telecom operators (co-investment). Coordination activities have been reported by about half of EU States. However, a BEREC report highlights that coordinated behaviour could lead to monopolistic behaviour by partners.

5. Alignment measures for new housing and building projects. These measures can mandate the provision of ducts, cables or fibre in new housing, construction, road or other infrastructure projects.

The five categories have some overlap between one another. But they have provided a useful categorisation that enables the merits of each of these cost reduction methods to be investigated and compared more easily.

Have we missed anything?

2 users have voted.

rebentisch's picture
Submitted by rebentisch on Thu, 2012-05-24 22:04

In Berlin there was a substantial problem to get internet access in certain areas. So citizens bridged it via antennas, the birth of the Freifunk movement. With the digital dividend we could open certain frequencies for unlicensed access and get "Wifi on steroids" for the last mile, so we don't have to care for last mile cables. Current wifi has limitations which won't apply to the new spectrum opportunities. Also very interesting was the Freifunk Djursland project to get internet access to rural Denmark. All these are initiatives that are more then 10 years old but they demonstrate that last mile access could be bottom up, homegrown technology. The real obstacle to internet sharing is a perception of legal uncertainty.

1 user has voted.

Engberg's picture
Submitted by Engberg on Wed, 2012-05-30 11:25

The policitcal focus on boradband is - in my view - hugely overrated. If people saw the use of more braodband capacity, they would demand it and market would deliver it.

What happens now is more of what created tjhe finanscial crisis - political attempts to create growth though pushing liquidity or - as here - capacity into the market place.

If we got a connection, insufficient capacity we solve it self.

The problem is if we have no or wrong connections so market processes cannot work. E.g. kartel structures or other lock-in mechanisms.

0 users have voted.

Submitted by Eduard Falco on Wed, 2012-05-30 18:35

State aid regulation
Let me introduce a new issue to discuss. I'm working at a Regional Government, so, we want to promote new NGA networks. We are managing justice, police, health and education (in Spain, regions have quite an important roles in public services and, in particular, Catalonia). Educational services are not just heavy users of broadband, they are depredators of broadband. When we introduce the electronic health patient record (for public and private healthcare system, it was created and agreed for the complete system, not just public one) or digital image or telediagnosis, health system becomes also a heavy user of boradband. So, Government is one of the promotors of broadbant for public services, we need them. Perhaps the individual users not yet, perhaps just some companies, but Government needs.
So, Regional Government promote a new NGA network for self-provision, but we wanted to put the extra capacity on the market. And then we discover..,. State aid regulation. I have to admit the cooperative work with the DG COMP colleagues, but changes on State aid regulation, new guidelines,... delay all process. Now we have a new public consultation. The objective is to facilitate and help the projects to become alive, but... but changing environment (specially regulation) is also a risk that can stop projects. So, I just want to introduce the regulation changes as a possible stopper or dinamizator, what do you think about?

1 user has voted.

conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Wed, 2012-05-30 22:23

I think State Aid is an obstacle to many projects Eduard.
On a far smaller scale in 2004 we tried to get access to a publicly funded undersubsribed education network in the UK, to serve areas of very limited or no connectivity, and 'state aid' was thrown at us every time. Apparently the market could deliver a solution (leased lines that we couldn't afford) and so there was a network sat there doing nothing which could have benefitted a lot of people...

I must admit I don't know why state aid is such an issue, but hope someone on this blog will enlighten us all. Sometimes the rules and regulations which are created in good faith to keep everything right end up as a noose that throttles us.

0 users have voted.

nooren's picture
Submitted by nooren on Thu, 2012-05-31 10:59

The costs of high-speed broadband connections are substantial and therefore clearly require attention. On the other hand, let us not forget about the revenue side of high-speed connections. Traditional thinking is that the network operators installing the connections should also be able to recover their costs by selling their services to consumers. In practice, this leads to operator revenues dominated by triple play services (TV, fast Internet and good old telephony). But high-speed broadband has much more value to offer to society than just triple play! Think of all the useful and necessary applications in health, education, security, etc. Other sectors can provide additional revenue and even share some of the costs of broadband. If this is to work, both network operators and the other stakeholders need to seriously take into account the requirements of other sectors, as it is not obvious that the crucial services from other sectors can be properly served by best-effort internet (even if it is high-speed). There will be other important requirements, for example for quality and reliability of the connections. But, if network operators take these requirements into account, they can widen the business case for broadband, to their own benefit and to the benefit of society as a whole. Thus, “my business case transforms into our (trans-sector) value case’. It is not surprising that this type of trans-sector innovation is studied and developed further in research initiatives like TRANS (

In the Netherlands we see the interesting example of the Reggefiber fiber roll-out in the city of Amersfoort. In parallel to the standard high-speed connectivity for triple play, Reggefiber has introduced other, guaranteed quality connections aimed at health, education and other services that are created and consumed locally ( Since many of these services are local in nature anyway, it turns out that bottom-up initiatives driven by local communities (varying from schools to churches) are the best way to promote these services, and the high-speed connections that they need. Local roll-out, local services, local communities – a very natural fit…

2 users have voted.

Submitted by fergal on Fri, 2012-06-08 19:12

Some great contributions here on innovative creation of NGA / Fibre / Superfast Broadband infrastructure.

I am particularly intrigued by Eduard' s contributions above which echo quite a lot what has developed in Ireland.

There is a carrier-neutral provider in Ireland who manage and commercialise the publicly funded Duct and Fibre assets put in place by central Government, transport (road, rail) and Utilities (electric, Gas, water).

In both situations, the important point was to allow the carrier neutrality. This then ensures the innovative civils building for this infrastructure is made available on an open access basis, and therefore really drives the adoption and market.

4 users have voted.

luigi.scorca's picture
Submitted by luigi.scorca on Thu, 2012-06-14 15:17

From June 1st is out for public consultation the revision of the Guidelines on public funding to broadband networks:

For your info, in such documents DG COMP aims to encourage the creation of a "register of infrastructures" (presents and forecasted), a more active role of NRAs and the public financing of passive infrastructures (like ducts) in order to diminish deployment costs for operators without distorcing competition on the market.

0 users have voted.
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