Public support to ultrafast networks in the Italian NRRP

As part of the investments to support the digitisation, innovation and competitiveness of the production system[1], the Italian Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) has allocated €6.71 billion for interventions in favor of ultra-fast networks (ultra-broadband and 5G)[2]. The amount will be deployed by 2026 to achieve the objectives defined in the “Italian Strategy for ultra-broadband”[3] in accordance with the EU Digital Compass[4] as regards the digital transformation of the Member States by 2030. More specifically, as confirmed by the NRRP, the Italian Strategy aims to ensure connectivity at 1 Gbit/s throughout the Italian territory by 2026, ahead of the European objectives set for 2030.

The Italian Strategy consists of seven interventions: the first two (named “White Areas Plan” and “Voucher Plan”) were launched by the Italian Government prior to the NRRP and approved by decisions of the European Commission under State aid rules in 2016[5] and 2020[6] respectively.

As part of the NRRP, the Italian Government has therefore financed five additional Plans, which will be implemented following public consultations in accordance with the “EU Guidelines for the application of State aid rules in relation to the rapid deployment of broadband networks”[7]. These are precisely the Plans called: (1) 1 Giga Italy; (2) 5G Italy; (3) Connected Health; (4) Connected School; (5) Smaller Islands.

The interventions envisaged by the five additional Plans are complementary with respect to the concessions already approved under the “White Areas Plan” and through the 5G tenders (launched by Italy in 2018), and enable further (and not yet envisaged) investments by private operators.

The interventions financed by the NRRP will be accompanied by a path of reforms consisting in the simplification of administrative authorisation procedures in order to speed up the deployment of infrastructure on the territory, and in the updating of regulations with the recognition of the strategic nature of fixed and mobile ultrafast networks.

1 Giga Italy

With a budget of €3.9 billion, the “Italia a 1 Giga” Plan aims to provide connectivity at 1 Gbit/s download and 200 Mbit/s upload in the grey and black NGA market failure areas, for a total of 8.5 million real estate units, in compliance with the principle of technological neutrality.

In order to define the scope of implementation of the Plan, the first step will involve the mapping of the existing networks. The outcome of the mapping will be shared with the stakeholders in a public consultation, in which the target areas will be precisely indicated, as well as the other characteristics of the measure including possible models of public intervention. Formal notification of the Plan to the European Commission under State aid rules is expected in Q3 2021.

5G Italy

In advance of the 2020 deadline set by the new European Electronic Communications Code[8], in 2018 Italy has already assigned the 694-790 MHz9, 3600-3800 MHz and 26.5-27.5 GHz bands to mobile operators through the so-called “5G auction”. The first commercial 5G services were launched in Italy in 2019.

In complementary and synergic terms with respect to the market initiatives, under the NRRP Italy has allocated €2.02 billion for the implementation of the “Italia 5G” Plan with the aim of encouraging the deployment of 5G mobile networks in areas of market failure.

More specifically, the planned interventions relate to:

  • 5G corridors”: the investment will support the deployment of 5G connectivity along approximately 2,645 km of “European corridors”, according to a scope of intervention that will be defined in detail on the basis of the results of the 5G mapping and through discussions with the European Commission, also in synergy with other European programmes/initiatives, such as the European Connecting Europe Facility 2 programme;
  • 5G-ready suburban roads”: Italy will implement fibre-optic backhauling on approximately 10,000 km of highly trafficked suburban roads to support the adoption of 5G applications in key sectors such as security, mobility, logistics and tourism;
  • 5G mobile infrastructures in market failure areas”: the investment will encourage the deployment of 5G mobile infrastructure in areas where, following the mapping of mobile networks, market failures remain.

Formal notification of the Plan to the European Commission under State aid rules is expected in Q4 2021.

Connected Schools

The “Scuole Connesse” Plan aims to complete, with the same model of intervention launched in 2020, the Plan for ultra-broadband coverage of all school buildings in Italy, with a total estimated cost of €261 million.

The Plan will provide coverage with 1 Gbit/s connectivity and management and maintenance services for five years to the 9,000 remaining school buildings (about 20% of the total).

Connected Health

The “Sanità Connessa” Plan provides ultra-broadband connectivity at 1 Gbit/s to approximately 12,280 healthcare facilities across the country. The total cost of the project is estimated at €501 million. The new network will be entirely financed and owned by the State and will be managed by one or more operators to be appointed on the basis of a competitive selection process.

Minor Islands

With the “Isole Minori” Plan, Italy aims to provide adequate connectivity to 18 minor islands currently lacking broadband connections to the mainland. In particular, the islands will be equipped with optical backhaul that will allow the development of ultra-broadband connectivity. The optical backhaul will be accessible to all operators via Submarine Backhaul Access Points identified according to the criterion of the shortest distance from the neutral delivery point (NDP), if present on the island, and from the landing point of the submarine cable. The total budget is €60.5 million.

The measure will be implemented through direct intervention models. As for the above-mentioned Connected Health Plan, also in the Minor Islands case the new network will be fully financed and owned by the State and will be managed by one or more operators, identified on the basis of a competitive selection process.

Italian NRRP

M1C2 – Investment 3

 

Plan

NRRP allocation

(data in €/million)

1

1 Giga Italy 3,863.5

2

5G Italy:

a)      5G Corridors

a)        420

b)      5G-ready suburban roads

b)       600

c)      No 5G/4G Areas

c)        1,000

3

Connected Schools 261

4

Connected Health 501.5

5

Minor Islands 60.5

TOTAL

6,706.5

Source: Strategia Italiana per la Banda Ultralarga, Verso la Gigabit Society” (25 May 2021) in https://www.mise.gov.it/images/stories/documenti/1622021525_strategia_bul.pdf, 6-7.


[1] All websites accessed 2 July 2021.

[2] Italian NRRP, M1C2, 100-101, in https://www.governo.it/sites/governo.it/files/PNRR.pdf.

[3] Strategia Italiana per la Banda Ultralarga “Verso la Gigabit Society” (25 May 2021) in https://www.mise.gov.it/images/stories/documenti/1622021525_strategia_bul.pdf.

[4] See https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/policies/digital-compass.

[5] European Commission, State aid SA.41647 (2016/N) – Italy – Strategia Banda Ultralarga, decision of 30 June 2016 in https://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases/264095/264095_1764969_101_2.pdf.

[6] European Commission, State Aid SA.57495 (2020/N) – Italy Broadband vouchers for certain categories of families, decision of 4 August 2020 in https://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases1/202037/286902_2187163_119_2.pdf.

[7] 2013/C 25/01 in https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:52013XC0126(01)&from=EN.

[8] See Article 54 of Directive (EU) 2018/1972 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 establishing the European Electronic Communications Code (Recast) in OJ L 321, 17.12.2018, 36–214, in http://data.europa.eu/eli/dir/2018/1972/oj.


Author

Dr Sara Gobbato, PhD in EU Law, Avvocato of Counsel at CRCLEX Milan-Padua


Photo by John Barkiple on Unsplash

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