Hearing on Requirements for Basic Access to Telecommunication Services

Today the Federal Network Agency is publishing expert reports and initial investigations for consultation on the minimum requirements for internet access to all important online services.

“The newly created right wants to pave the way for all citizens to use all vital internet services, teleworking and video streaming to the customary extent. The proposed values only represent an initial marker which must be verified annually. A dynamic development over time reflecting technological advances is expected here,” says Jochem Homann, president of the Federal Network Agency. “It remains the goal of all protagonists to carry on pushing for nationwide expansion of gigabit networks. There are suitable means in place to do this – for instance, funds that support expansion in sparsely populated regions, as well as a regulation encouraging fibre optic investment.”

Form of the basic access

New rules were embodied in the Telecommunications Act on 1 December 2021. These rules, particularly those relating to the parameters for download and upload data transmission speeds as well as latency, are to be finalised by the Federal Network Agency by 1 June 2022.

The expert reports provide a minimum download speed of 10 Mbps, a minimum upload speed of 1.3 Mbps and a maximum latency of 150 milliseconds as a starting point for the consultation. According to the expert reports published today, an internet connection complying with these requirements enables basic access to all important internet services. These minimum bandwidths typically correspond to the faster advertised “up to” speeds.

The Federal Network Agency will annually verify the requirements for access and dynamically adjust them to reflect technological developments. This will ensure that they take into account legitimate interests in universal and fair basic access.

Published expert reports

The Federal Network Agency has published three expert reports. One expert report analyses the technical requirements of online services that the new legal right is expected to guarantee. The experts are of the opinion that use of the services requires a download speed of 7.7 Mbps. The Federal Network Agency proposes a faster speed in order to ensure, among other things, adequate access until the first verification. For upload and latency the experts recommend the values provided for the consultation.

A further expert report looks at the performance of mobile broadband services to ensure basic access. The third expert report examines the option of implementing adequate access via satellite.

Data collection findings and experience in Europe

In addition, the consultation process was fed with data from a corporate survey which had ascertained, as per law, the used minimum bandwidth of at least 80 per cent of consumers (the so-called 80 per cent criterion). It did so by referring to the minimum bandwidth guaranteed in each contract. The next step was to analyse the tariffs used by 80 per cent of customers with the highest bandwidths. The minimum value achieved by this group is the benchmark for the so-called majority criterion. In this case however, the resulting bandwidths (6 Mbps for download and 0.7 Mbps for upload) are less than the criteria for the service and hence the majority criterion currently has no effect.

Furthermore, the values provided for consultation are consistent with the findings and experience in other European countries. For example, no other European country has so far stipulated a download speed exceeding 10 Mbps as a minimum requirement.

Legal right must not impede privately-financed expansion

The requirements must be set prudently to safeguard the expansion of the fibre optic network which has been significantly accelerating lately. Otherwise companies will be forced, for example, to reallocate scarce planning and civil engineering resources already scheduled for the construction of gigabit networks to other purposes. The implication would be a marked delay in the nationwide expansion of the fibre optic network.

Background to the right to access to telecommunication services

The right to access to telecommunication services is a modernisation of existing regulations on the universal service and implements European guidelines. The universal service is inherently a means to guarantee basic access to internet services and hence economic and social participation. According to EU codex, funding programs for the expansion of high capacity broadband networks should be prioritised if private financing is unavailable. The Telecommunications Act also provides for such prioritization. In forming the right to access to telecommunication services, particular and appropriate care must be taken not to impede either privately-financed broadband expansion or broadband funding measures.

The regulation must be approved by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport and the relevant parliamentary committee before it is adopted by the Federal Network Agency, by 1 June 2022 at the latest. The consent of the regional parliamentary chamber (Bundesrat) is also required.

The Federal Network Agency will in future use the values specified and stipulated within the framework of the regulation to detect inadequate provision and, unless a telecommunications company voluntarily submits an appropriate package, place companies under an obligation to do so. In this case, all suitable technologies must in principle be considered.

Consultation as a start to the discussion process

All stakeholders are invited to comment on the consultation document as well as the expert reports until 31 January 2022.

The document as well as other information on the procedure and the aforementioned expert reports have been published at www.bundesnetzagentur.de/rasi.