The “right to fast internet” sounds promising. However, the Federal Network Agency’s draft regulation is more about the maximum requirement. The federal states are demanding a higher speed.
How fast does an internet connection have to be in order not to exclude and disadvantage users? This question has been occupying politicians in Germany for months.
While Internet providers promise top speeds of 1000 megabits per second (Mbit/s) in well-developed streets, only a tiny fraction of this arrives in hundreds of thousands of households.
Federal Council discusses requirements
On Friday, the “right to fast internet”, which should actually be called “the right to a not so extremely lame internet”, is on the Federal Council’s agenda. The Chamber of States advises which technical requirements an Internet connection in Germany should at least meet. Also in every last village and at every milk can.
The specification comes from the Federal Network Agency. On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Transport, she had laid down in a regulation what this fundamental right should mean in concrete terms: 10 Mbit/s when downloading data and 1.7 Mbit/s when uploading. The latency – i.e. the response time – should not be higher than 150 milliseconds. As a result, connections with geostationary satellites were virtually ruled out, although they offer the required bandwidths.
Bavaria and Lower Saxony want even more
In the Bundestag, the specifications met with approval in the Digital Expert Committee. But the Federal Council must also give the green light. And federal states like Bavaria and Lower Saxony see them as far too low. Bavaria’s Minister of Finance and Homeland Albert Füracker (CSU) pointed out that the EU Commission has been defining “fast Internet” with 30 Mbit/s – i.e. three times the value – for ten years. “And that too is no longer up-to-date. It is difficult to understand that in 2022 the federal government would come to the conclusion that ten Mbit/s would be fast enough.”
Significantly higher goals were also aimed for in the deliberations of the two responsible Federal Council committees. The majority of the transport committee called for a download speed of 30.8 megabits – more than three times as much as the federal government intends. The upload minimum should increase from 1.7 to 5.2 megabits. The consumer protection committee demanded similarly high values.
Consumer advocates support federal states
The Federal Council committees also want to delete the word “regularly” from the ordinance, which would have far-reaching consequences. This would mean that the specified minimum speeds would have to be adhered to much more strictly than in the Federal Network Agency’s draft.
The federal states are supported by consumer protection groups: the Federal Consumer Association (vzbv) also called for improvements, including higher initial bandwidths. The minimum requirements must also always be met. Everyone in Germany must finally have nationwide access to the Internet, explained Jutta Gurkmann, board member of the vzbv. “However, the cabinet draft opens up the possibility of going even further below the specified minimum requirements (…) by means of an opening clause.”
Fire letter could cause a turnaround
How the vote in the Federal Council on Friday will end is open. Until recently, many observers assumed that the federal government’s plans for the right to high-speed Internet were in danger of failing in the Bundesrat. However, a fire letter from the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport to the state governments could cause a last-minute change of mind.
In the letter, which is available to the German Press Agency, State Secretary Stefan Schnorr very undiplomatically points out to the countries that the higher requirements demanded are not possible. “Neither the national nor the European legal framework allows this.” The improvements demanded go far beyond the statutory requirement of a minimum supply and would lead to disproportionate obligations on the part of companies. “In addition, an increase in the values would result in a lasting impairment of the gigabit expansion in the area.”
The decision will be made on Friday
The industry associations had previously made it clear that increasing the minimum requirements would slow down fiber optic expansion because financial resources and construction capacities would then have to be used differently than planned.
Schnorr warned the federal states against setting the number of needy households so high that priority is not given to helping those who are very badly or not at all connected to the Internet with the minimum values. Whether these arguments will motivate the majority of the federal states to agree to the lower values will be seen in the Bundesrat on Friday.