Berlin After a year of dispute, the federal and state governments have agreed in principle on how they want to promote the expansion of the fiber optic network in uneconomic regions in the future. The Handelsblatt has a corresponding key issues paper, which both sides want to discuss in the coming week.
The new program should possibly start in April, as it was said. To this end, the federal government wants to divide the three billion euros among the federal states – but not according to the usual Königsteiner key, which is based on the tax revenue and the population of the federal states.
Rather, the federal government used the broadband atlas to determine how many households do not yet have a fiber optic connection and are also in an area where expansion is not worthwhile. Overall, this affects almost ten million households. Two million of these households are in Bavaria. There are more than a million in North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg.
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The municipalities of these federal states can accordingly count on the most federal funds. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania will bring up the rear among the non-city states. In principle, each federal state should receive 100 million euros to support the expansion of fiber optics in uneconomical areas. According to the Federal Digital Ministry, it is worth expanding privately for around 92 percent of households.
More than one billion euros for three federal states
EUR 50 million each will be reserved for the city states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg. There, the expansion usually pays off even without state aid. In addition, the new distribution key will take effect, according to which Bavaria will receive 450 million euros, North Rhine-Westphalia 400 million euros and Baden-Württemberg 320 million euros.
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Bavaria’s Finance Minister Albert Füracker (CSU) welcomed the basic agreement with the federal government and pointed out that Bavaria itself had already invested more than two billion euros in fiber optic expansion. The federal states are “in constructive talks” with the federal government, he told the Handelsblatt. “However, some details have not yet been finally clarified. But one thing is clear: now speed is required.” A lot of time was lost due to the funding stop in October.
Alexander Schweitzer, Minister of Digitization in Rhineland-Palatinate, also welcomed the progress. The cornerstones are “a solid basis for targeted broadband funding that does not repeat the mistakes of the past,” he told the Handelsblatt. However, there are “still open questions that we will now discuss further in dialogue with the federal government”. Rhineland-Palatinate is to receive 210 million euros this year.
The questions that the federal and state governments want to clarify in the coming week include the instruments with which the federal government wants to prioritize projects in the future. For example, commitments by companies in market investigation procedures should no longer be binding if “the development area concerned is highly attractive for private development”.
At the same time, the municipalities should prevent a private company from laying its own fiber optic cable after a subsidized expansion. Digitization Minister Schweitzer called on companies to be more transparent, “e.g. when providing data or with a view to concrete expansion commitments”.
The companies, however, warn that market investigation procedures “to focus initially on municipalities in which there is still a high proportion of households with particularly poor internet service or where subsidies are to be used to supplement a planned commercial fiber optic expansion in the sense of nationwide coverage,” says Sven Knapp explained by the Federal Association of Broadband Communication (Breko) on request.
Municipalities with poor internet coverage should be given preference
The new funding strategy also envisages that the municipalities carry out “industry dialogues”, sound out private-sector potential and point out alternative laying methods. In principle, “all municipalities” should also be able to apply for funding from the federal government.
Applications from municipalities with poor internet service of less than 50 megabits per second “are approved immediately”. Only then should other municipalities be allowed to apply for the state budgets. However, the federal states consider this so-called “fast lane” to be of little use in practice.
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Originally, the traffic light coalition had planned to cap the new funding for the 16 federal states at a maximum of one billion euros. This was to prevent private-sector expansion from being further crowded out. This is currently happening because there is hardly any free capacity left on the construction market to lay fiber optic cables. If too many municipalities advertise projects, this creates further shortages.
On the other hand, companies must pay attention nationwide to planned tenders to see whether they intend to build on their own account in the area and register this accordingly with binding effect. These so-called market investigation procedures by the public sector tie up capacities. Since this year, the state has also been able to provide funding wherever there is no private expansion. Previously, this was only possible to a limited extent.
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