Why Andreas Scheuer’s digital strategy is stuck

Because the companies do not operate masts in uneconomical regions, Scheuer did not want to fill the gap with incentives, but with a federally owned mobile communications infrastructure company, in short: Mig.

More than a year later, there is still no radio mast, and apart from the two managing directors, the authority only has seven employees. Ernst-Ferdinand Wilmsmann, one of the two managing directors, hopes that there will be 14 employees in October and that “recruitment will be completed” in the first quarter of 2022. It should then be 100 employees. There is also a supervisory board, an advisory board and regional offices next to the headquarters in Naumburg in central Germany. This year alone, the administrative costs are 40 million euros.

Consultants have meanwhile taken over the work and identified white spots on the mobile phone map, which the company could then remove in cooperation with local authorities and subsidies. There are currently only 19 areas in which the mobile phone providers do not operate masts for their 3G or 4G networks and do not plan to expand their network there in the next three years.

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Before the agency was founded, Scheuer’s officials claimed in a profitability report that there were 4400 such spots nationwide. At that time, the Federal Audit Office had doubts about the report. Nevertheless: Scheuer founded the authority, which is now to support the construction of an estimated 5,000 mobile phone masts with 1.1 billion euros.

“Millions are being wasted here”

Sven-Christian Kindler, budgetary spokesman for the Greens in the Bundestag, criticizes Sven-Christian Kindler as “expensive, more expensive, scared. “Administrative costs of 40 million euros, an annual salary of 350,000 euros for the two managing directors and expensive consultancy contracts for 4.5 million euros. All this in order to set up a radio mast at 19 locations across Germany? That’s a joke. Millions are being wasted here. “

Criticism also comes from the association of providers of telecommunications and value-added services, VATM. It was “the completely wrong way”, criticized managing director Jürgen Grützner. It is true that every party advocates reducing bureaucracy and speeding up procedures.

But it is just as easy to argue that companies have failed and that the state has to fix it. “It would be expedient to spend less funding and to set incentives for it so that companies can close the last gaps.” This includes, for example, providing locations on public properties.

111 potential eligible areas

The targeted 100 employees at Mig have clear tasks: They should launch calls for funding, coordinate with the federal states and municipalities, and help companies plan and expand.

Mig pays the site rent for the first seven years and promotes electricity and fiber optic connections. According to its own admission, Mig offers a “coherent approach from a single source”. In this way, “municipalities and network operators would be relieved to a large extent”.

Mobile communications in Germany

A cell phone mast stands on a hill in the Meisenheim association.

(Photo: dpa)

There are doubts about the eligible areas from the federal states. The number was too low, it was said. For example, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania alone has identified 300 necessary masts, which the state authority is now promoting. There are doubts about the criteria by which the federal authority identifies the areas.

The Mig consultants are examining a total of 111 potential development areas, and a good half of the examinations have been completed. The first mast should be erected in the coming year at the earliest.

Green housekeeper Kindler demands “that the Federal Network Agency gets more staff and the approval and application procedures are accelerated” – as the Federal Audit Office has also considered it to be expedient. “Instead of getting a new mega-agency on the way, wasting years with it and wasting millions, the federal government should set clear guidelines for companies when it comes to network expansion.”

Mobile operators criticize poor framework conditions

VATM managing director Grützner also points out that these requirements exist and that they are also met. If this does not happen, companies would have to make improvements and sanctions threatened. In addition, however, the state failed to promote fiber optic expansion. Instead, the government “made the wrong political decision” and supported Telekom in using existing copper cables for as long as possible.

Companies in particular suffer from this. This emerges from a response from the federal government to the FDP parliamentary group, which is available to the Handelsblatt. According to this, only 0.8 percent of the 48,394 commercial areas numbered in the answer are fully supplied with fiber optics (as of the end of 2020).

This corresponds to 386 business parks. There is also a lack of fast internet connections in schools. According to government figures, only eleven percent of the 33,282 schools (3,652) had gigabit fiber optic connections.

The federal government has been promoting fast internet since 2015. According to the government, projects worth nine billion euros have been approved since the end of 2015 – but only 1.3 billion euros had been completed and billed by July 2021.

This corresponds to around eleven percent of the federal funding program, which is endowed with twelve billion euros. The Federal Government explains the duration of the procedures with planning, approval and award procedures as well as with a lack of capacities in civil engineering. This means that the government is far from its goal of supplying all households with fiber optic networks.

The FDP politician Daniela Kluckert rates the result as “uncoordinated, aimless and chaotic”. The grand coalition had failed to “make Germany fit for the digital age,” she said.

The chief executive of the Association of Towns and Municipalities, Gerd Landsberg, also sharply criticized the federal government. “Especially in the rural regions, we are still a long way off from a comprehensive minimum supply, as it was announced for the end of 2018, even years later,” Landsberg told the Handelsblatt.

The goal, anchored in the 2018 coalition agreement, of connecting commercial areas and schools directly to the fiber optic network, was “obviously” also missed. “After all, the next goal of providing all households with high-speed internet across the board by the year 2025 hardly seems to be realized.”

Landsberg believes it is no longer acceptable, also with a view to the equality of living conditions, that the government’s announcements and promises are repeatedly undermined. “In key areas such as digitization, which affects all areas of people’s lives, this also weakens the trust of citizens in politics and their ability to act.” A “digital divide” between well-supplied metropolitan areas and undersupplied regions is no longer allowed give longer.

From Landsberg’s point of view, one of the primary goals in the coming legislative period must be “to remove the jungle of funding and to end the ongoing funding bureaucracy”. The existing financial resources should be available more quickly and easily. “But it should not be overlooked that the municipalities are under-staffed, especially when it comes to construction and planning processes,” Landsberg added. “Adequate regular funding from the municipalities, on the other hand, can ensure a solid personnel structure in the long term.”

More: Fiber optic disaster: How bad politics and sluggish companies are endangering Germany’s digital future

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