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Philipp Blank

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Digging together

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Together with partners Deutsche Telekom intends to push ahead with fiber-optic expansion in Germany. CEO Tim Höttges emphasized this during his first speech to Buglas, an association of competitors for fiber-optic lines.

CEO Tim Höttges and Buglas association president Theo Weirich.

CEO Tim Höttges gave Buglas association president Theo Weirich a gift to support the broadband rollout.

"The times are changing," said Tim Höttges, speaking before some 200 representatives of network operators such as NetCologne, Wilhelm.Tel, and Deutsche Glasfaser. Not too long ago, a visit to competitors like this was virtually unthinkable. The rifts were too deep – especially after the vectoring dispute. Now, Deutsche Telekom's CEO stressed: "You can't master major challenges with old habits. We need new approaches and, in places, new alliances."

The major challenge is achieving gigabit connectivity for Germany. Buglas is an association of companies that are making major investments in fiber-optic infrastructure, in addition to Deutsche Telekom. They represent 85 percent of the competitors' FTTH and FTTB build-out. And Deutsche Telekom operates a fiber-optic network that is 455,000 kilometers long – with 40,000 kilometers added this year alone. He now proposes joining forces for digging: "I want to team up with you, to lay as many FTTH and FTTB lines as possible," said Höttges.

Partnerships make sense because actual demand for FTTH is rather low: just one-quarter of the available lines have been booked. By working together, companies can share the high investment costs instead of building competing fiber-optic infrastructure. 

There is a major problem associated with this, however: the partner companies risk being "infected" with Deutsche Telekom's regulations if they collaborate. Specifically, this means they would have to allow third parties to use their networks under conditions defined by Germany's Federal Network Agency. That's why Höttges advocates for excluding fiber-to-the-home lines from regulatory oversight. "If they want gigabit, they have to reward gigabit investments. Regulation has to be the lubricant for the network expansion."

Deutsche Telekom isn't alone in this position. Several Buglas companies have already signed a key issues paper (German only) (pdf, 70.3 KB) calling for increased investment and cooperation in fiber-optic networks to the home. Their key demand: regulatory waivers. This isn't the only obstacle on the way to more fiber optics, however: "Germany is still extremely bureaucratic. The approval procedures are too complex. Those who call for modern infrastructure have to provide modern administration. For example, allowing new laying techniques like trenching," emphasized Höttges.   

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