Broadband Competence Offices will play a catalytic role in ensuring that the digital budget of the Recovery and Resilience Fund will reach the market and end in long-term and robust investments. At a webinar on ‘Telecom’s Role in the Recovery: Infrastructure, Innovation and Sustainability’, organised by the Financial Times, Jan Dröge, Team Lead of the BCO Network Support Facility, together with Anthony Whelan, Digital Policy Adviser to the European Commission President, outlined the most important factors that Member States should take into account in order for the Fund to be most effective.

Title over photograph of light travelling through optical fibre cables: "Optimising Recovery and Resilience Facility funding for broadband"

During the panel discussion with representatives from the Telecom sector on December 10, it was noted that, although the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) negotiations are not yet finalised, it is certain that the objective for Member States will be to invest at least 20% of the budget in ‘digital’ as well as 37% in ‘green’ – categories which, as all speakers agreed, can be complementary.

In that regard, Mr Whelan highlighted the connectivity aspect of RRF as a major opportunity for Member States to make long-term investments: 

This is an opportunity for countries to deploy fast and easy schemes that don’t distort the market. This is an exercise of solidarity. Now is the time for Member States to submit their plans and get the tenders up and running as fast as possible. 

From his side, Mr Dröge explained the role of the BCO Network in accelerating these plans and in ensuring that rural areas are taken into account in this process:

85% of citizens in Europe already have a good connection. The problem is with the rural, mountainous or low population density areas, where there is no commercial interest from the private sector. BCOs in Member States have the mandate to reduce the digital divide and to ensure that all citizens get the best possible access to the latest generation of connectivity.

Mr Dröge also highlighted the fact that there is a national BCO in every Member State that acts as single point of contact for municipalities and the private sector in order to make sure that rural areas are not left behind.

As far as the tendering procedures in countries are concerned, both Mr Whelan and Mr Dröge insisted on the fact that Member States should factor aspects such as the EU Green Deal, sustainability and quality of networks into their strategic planning. Mr Whelan underlined that:

Countries should frame the public tenders in a way that builds on sustainability, as well as other quality criteria, not only on price.

In order to give a better sense of how the connectivity objectives align with the EU’s Green Deal targets for 2050, Mr Whelan gave an example: 

40% of the workforce teleworking two days per week in Germany would reduce transport emissions by 4% per year.

Mr Dröge followed up on this point, noting that BCOs are working on the ‘EU Broadband Cost Reduction Directive’ in order to include promotion of ‘green criteria’ in their planning: 

We are going to be actively training the BCOs on these mechanisms in order to allow countries to do procurement that is not only price-based but also considers sustainability criteria.

Lastly, it was established by all the speakers on the panel that the recent pandemic only accelerated what everyone already knew: the fact that digital is going to be one of Europe’s fastest growing priorities during the upcoming years. The BCO Network and the EU should work together in order to make the most out of this opportunity. 

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