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FTTH Europe: Greece Plans €2B Rollout

Ray Le Maistre
2/13/2009

COPENHAGEN -- FTTH Council Europe Conference 2009 -- The Greek government, mindful of the potential impact of high-speed, next-generation, broadband capabilities on national economies, has drawn up a €2.1 billion (US$2.7 billion) plan to rid the Southern European nation of its "broadband pauper" status.

The plan was first talked about several months ago, but details were scarce at the time. (See Greeks to Fund Fiber Net.)

Now, though, the Greek state's intentions are clearer.

Presenting here at the annual European fiber access jamboree, Panayiotis Tsanakas, chairman of GRNET (Greek Research and Education Network), said the government intends to pass 2 million homes during the next seven years with fiber access connections in Athens, Thessaloniki, and 50 other cities and towns across Greece, including some on the many surrounding Mediterranean islands.

Some Greek municipalities have already set out their own independent plans, but this is a new, coordinated, state-backed project. (See Greeks Choose Ericsson.)

The state is hoping that, with broadband services of at least 100 Mbit/s on offer, it will attract at least 650,000 end users. The government is not dictating the technology that will be used to make the final connection to homes and businesses, but stipulates an open network architecture that will be run by a separate entity from the companies that will sell the services and applications, such as Internet access, VoIP, and IPTV, that will run over the network.

This model of network and service separation is becoming increasingly popular around Europe.

Greece was, until recently, at the bottom of the European Union's member states' broadband penetration table, with a dismal 1 percent rate in 2005. That situation has improved during the past few years, though, with 1.2 million households now hooked up with a broadband service. That number, though, means Greece still has a broadband penetration rate of only 14 percent, lower than the continental average.

The government's ambitious FTTH plan, though, is dependent on the financial support of the private sector, which, in the current economic climate, could be tough to find. The Greek state plans to stump up €700 million ($903 million) of the estimated €2.1 billion total cost. That proportion of public funding, and the way it will be administered to the network's constructors, still needs to be cleared with the European Commission's competition and Public Private Partnership (PPP) authorities.

The Greek government is also hopeful that further sources of funds, such as the European Investment Bank, might be able to provide part of the investment.

And while Tsanakas didn't mention it specifically, there's also a chance that the European Commission might also provide some capital: The Commission announced in late January that, as part of a planned €5 billion ($6.45 billion) European Union recovery plan for 2009 and 2010, €1 billion ($1.3 billion) has been earmarked to "extend and upgrade high-speed Internet in rural communities" where broadband rollout might otherwise not be planned by commercial network operators.

Once EC clearance has been achieved -- and Tsanakas is confident it will be -- the Ministry plans to issue a network construction tender later this year, award contracts before the end of the year, and have construction start in 2010. He noted that the government will introduce legislation covering the shared use of ducts and in-building networking capabilities, and will ease any regulation necessary to help further the network's construction.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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