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Communications Network

Jan Droge, interview

To introduce you to visitors of our web site, could you tell us few things about yourself? Where are you from, how and when did you start your work at the Broadband Competence Offices Network Support Facility, where did you work prior to BCO-SF? 

I am the Team Leader of the EU-funded BCO Network initiative, which I helped launch in 2017. I previously worked on several studies and projects for the European Institutions, notably on the analysis of Structural Funds projects and innovation. I have also had the opportunity to advise some governments on their broadband strategies and State aid planning. I have worked throughout my career with many global leading telecommunications companies and equipment manufacturers, gaining an insight into the industries’ needs and expectations. 
My involvement and understanding of the sector, my appreciation for the perspective and needs of national governments, combined with my interest in EU policy and funding are what I bring to the BCO Network. 

As a team leader at the BCO-SF, you are familiar with the tasks and objectives of the Broadband Competence Offices Network. HAKOM as Croatian BCO is still developing its role and would like to bring closer benefits of broadband to all potential users and stakeholders. Considering those, could you in a simple way explain what the BCO Network is and why is it important on EU level?

The core objective of the BCO Network is to generate peer exchange and good practice sharing, with a view to driving better broadband coverage and service in the EU. It allows BCOs to reach out to each other for support and inspiration - all countries contribute good practices in innovation and successful new policies. 
Another objective is to build the capacities of the BCOs. Through the workshops organised by the Network, BCOs have access to training and insights into the development and interpretation of EU rules and regulation affecting the sector. This makes them better equipped to contribute to the policy dialogue in their own countries. 
Participation in the BCO Network also offers an opportunity for BCOs to have informal exchanges with the Commission, which greatly helps in the development of the various national schemes supporting broadband roll-out. It also allows the Commission to take our ‘real world’ experiences into account as they prepare new regulations and legislation. 
While the foundation concept is that a Broadband Competence Office should act as the single point of contact on broadband issues in the country, there is no legal basis for what a BCO is. Each country therefore has a different set up and interpretation of what their BCOs are, and over the last six years, we have endeavoured to work with all members to make this network as strong and impactful as possible. 
Indeed, the deployment of broadband requires bringing together different expertise, which in most countries are not under the same administration. The BCO should therefore act as the catalyst to bring these different areas of expertise together, most notably technical expertise on telecoms, financial expertise on project financing, as well as on EU and national funding schemes, and finally the legal and regulatory expertise. Indeed, the telecom sector in the EU is highly regulated, and any intervention has to consider this. 

EU sets policy programmes for certain period of time with the vision of improved Europe at the end of the period. Latest such policy programme is Digital Decade. How is BCO Network connected to this programme? What are the goals of BCO Network in next few years?

Indeed, the BCO Network is one of the tools to help achieve these ambitious EU targets. Most notably, the objective to bring gigabit connectivity to all citizens by 2030 and ensure full 5G coverage of populated areas and along all major transport corridors. As such, the Network’s – and indeed the BCOs’ – work plans are closely tied to the objectives of the Digital Decade. 

BCO Network organises series of webinars aiming to explain new regulation or exchange best practises regarding broadband. EU countries are very heterogeneous and mostly there is no one-size-fits-all solutions. Still, is there a best practice you could point out as good example form which every BCO could learn something?

Each country has its own realities and specificities. Still, we have seen over the last 6 years that some certainties have been broken up, and things which many countries thought would be impossible are now being implemented. I give the example of the demand-side measure: for the last 10 years approximately, countries have subsidised deployment of infrastructure, but only very recently has the angle of the users been taken into account. This, I believe, was very much achieved thanks to the exchange of experiences between countries in the Network.
Another learning, present from the start of the BCO Network, was the understanding by countries that having such a pool of expertise, a BCO, was worth investing in. Indeed, several countries have now allocated part of their EU funds to ensure their BCOs have the required resources to carry out their mandate. This shows the shared perception that BCO are beneficial to achieving not only the EU digital objectives, but also national objectives for digitisation, notably in rural areas. 

Croatia is geographically demanding for broadband implementation with lot of remote sparsely populated areas (mountains, islands etc.). Even with the use of EU funds, these parts are difficult to cover with questionable take-up of broadband services. From your experience what would be recommended approach to improve broadband rollout and take-up in such areas?

One of the key benefits of the exchanges between Network members is indeed this: while each national BCO is expert on their country’s needs and in determining the best solutions to implement, we are able to offer support and examples from other countries faced with similar challenges, even looking beyond the EU, such as to Korea and the US. 
Croatia has already allocated significant EU funds for the roll-out of connectivity. The impact of the first schemes was very encouraging, and Croatia has expanded the intervention with the help of RRF funds. Where up-take remains a challenge, incorporating demand-side measure to the intervention mix can be helpful. 
Islands indeed offer a particular challenge, not only geographically but also because their demographics may see great seasonal fluctuations. There have been several exchanges and dedicated discussions in the BCO Network to specifically explore how such communities can best be served. We have examples from Greece, but also countries with ultra-peripheral islands, such as the Azores, Canaries, and so on. Exploring EU funding, notably ERDF and CEF, to cover the sub-marine links is certainly worth considering. 

What would you point out as most important for successful national BCO?

In our experience, the success of a national BCO requires a few key ingredients:
  • Having the required resources to carry out its mandate
  • Having the necessary support within the local polity to ensure sustainable commitment to the broadband targets
  • Having a clear picture of where market failures occur in your country, and on that basis, designing a targeted National Broadband Plan
  • Leveraging the capacity building and information sessions, as well as the access to EU officials, provided by the BCO Network
Finally, I would add making best use of the BCO Network to learn and be inspired by peers and partners from other BCOs.

Is there any other issue you find important or you would like to highlight regarding BCO Network or broadband?

I would take the opportunity to highlight that the BCO Network does not work in isolation. We are part of a wider eco-system of EU networks driving connectivity and digitalisation in the EU. In this context, I would recommend also linking to some of our sister networks, most notably the 5G for Smart Communities and 6GSNS. These address the specific issues posed by 5G roll-out and are very complementary to our work. 
In addition, I would like to highlight the great work of the networks dealing specifically with the development of rural areas, for whom digitalisation and connectivity are always a key enabling factor. The EU CAP Network and the Rural Pact Community are both great initiatives, where BCOs can contribute and grow their impact.