* EU wants water, power suppliers to share with telecoms
* Digging trenches represents as much as 80 pct of cost
By Claire Davenport and Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS, Feb 7 The European Commission wants water,
electricity and gas companies to share their underground ducts
with telecoms firms to cut the cost of laying fibre cables for
faster broadband, a Commission paper seen by Reuters said.
The Commission is trying to help companies bring down the
cost of building fibre-based networks because the continent's
copper-based networks cannot sustain the rate at which Internet
use - especially mobile-based use - is expanding.
Mobile data usage is projected to grow three times faster
than computer-based traffic.
Analysts estimate duct-sharing can save companies 30 to 50
percent on laying cables, which the Commission says represents
up to 80 percent of costs ranging between 20 and 100 pounds
($30-$160) a metre (yard) in Britain, for example.
Europe's telecoms companies have also been slow to lay
cables that have a 30-40 year payback time.
Draft regulation says network operators, including ports,
airports and waste services, would be obliged to give broadband
companies access to their ducts "under fair terms and
conditions, including price".
"This regulation aims at reducing the costs of deployment of
physical infrastructure suitable for high-speed electronic
communications networks," the proposal from from the EU's
Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said.
The Commission has taken inspiration from Paris where
companies such as France Telecom uses the city's sewers
at a cut price to lay fibre.
Older copper networks are owned by Europe's largest telecoms
companies such as France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom which
inherited the lines when they were privatised in the 1990s.
Firms such as Iliad pay rent to use those cables.
The newer firms say they would welcome the move if it is
adopted, a Brussels-based lobby representing them said.
"As alternative operators are the leading investors in open
fibre networks, we strongly support the Commission's ambitious
initiative," Erzsebet Fitori, director of regulatory affairs at
the European Competitive Telecommunications Association, said.
A lobby group representing Europe's biggest telecoms
companies declined to comment.
These companies have not been seeking more ducts to lay
fibre but have been campaigning for fewer regulatory barriers to
buying smaller rivals to slim down an overcrowded market.
While Neelie Kroes is in favour of more consolidation, the
EU's competition chief Joaquin Almunia has come down hard on
companies' efforts to merge.