There are still areas without network coverage, and areas of the territory where speed and bandwidth are below the desired level, but the outlook for evolution is positive. The tender for covering the white areas should be launched "still this semester" and the Secretary of State for Regional Development highlights the commitment to the European goals of a Gigabit society in 2030.
The portrait of network coverage in Portugal was shared during the meeting of the Iniciativa Portuguesa do Fórum da Governação da Internet 2023, which took place this week in Lisbon, and attended by representatives of ANACOM and network operators, in a debate that anticipates the Digital Global Compact promoted by the United Nations and which aims to establish a global consensus around the principles and values to be adopted in digital.
At the opening of the session, data shared by Patrícia Silva Gonçalves, member of the ANACOM Board of Directors, highlighted Portugal's good position in terms of connectivity. Considering electronic communications the basic element of the digital world, positively or negatively influencing citizens' access to the internet, he recalled some coverage figures, with fiber networks reaching 92% of accommodation and base stations with 5G technology already installed in 99% of councils by March 2023.
The challenges of areas where Internet access coverage is still weak or non-existent were also pointed out, with it being essential to reduce asymmetries, a message also endorsed by the Secretary of State for Digitization and Administrative Modernization, Mário Campolargo, in his speech.
During the panel dedicated to the topic "Connecting everyone to the internet, including schools", the work that has been done in terms of connectivity in Portugal was once again highlighted by Luís Gaspar, director of regulation at ANACOM, who underlined, however, that in order to in addition to connectivity, it is necessary to ensure accessibility, with costs that can be borne by citizens, and the willingness to use, an issue also linked to digital literacy.
Specifically in relation to models that can guarantee interest in the use of the internet by the population that is still infoexcluded, Luís Gaspar says that "I am convinced that price is one of the important variables, and digital literacy as well, although Portugal does not compare badly with the EU in this area, but there is also a set of use cases that can be developed".
On the side of dstelecom, Ricardo Salgado also gave a perspective of a connectivity that has also been extended to rural areas, sharing network numbers that this multi-operator fiber operator has installed and that already reaches 136 municipalities and 1 million homes , and which already had to do capacity building to support the requirements of individual customers, companies and organizations.
For dstelecom's CEO, the main challenge is still that of information, as he recognizes that many people and companies still lack knowledge about fiber and the possibility of using services, and this is where the company has also invested. But he warns that there is still much to be done and that the competition for white areas, which should be launched shortly, is a relevant element for improving connectivity.
Unlike investments in highways, which served to facilitate the desertification of the interior and migration to the coast, Ricardo Salgado argues that investment in fiber is a factor for population fixation. Although he was not able to demonstrate this fact statistically, he underlined in his speech that connectivity in these territories is a valued element and that has helped to fix the population. "These municipalities where I operate have lost less population than others in the interior", he says.
On the same panel, Martijn van Delden, from Amazon Kuiper, explained the objectives of the new project that is being launched and which is committed to guaranteeing broadband access via satellite at an affordable price and with a simple and integrated experience. Although he cannot yet reveal when the service will be made available in Portugal, the person responsible for the commercial area of Southern Europe admits that it can be a good complement for areas of the country where there is still no network coverage, offering alternatives to users. "In the end it all serves the same goal of bringing more people to participate in the global economy."
Tender for white zones to be launched "this semester"
Ricardo Salgado also argues that the first condition to guarantee this broader participation of citizens and access to the Internet is to provide good infrastructure to all families, adding that "the country as a whole has to encourage and encourage people to take advantage of this infrastructure".
The need to increase competition was also underlined by the CEO of dstelecom and his expectation regarding the launch of the white zone coverage tender, in which the company is interested in participating.
Luís Gaspar recalled that in addition to the tender, "an instrument in which ANACOM assisted the Government" and which "expects that it will be used as soon as possible", the regulator has taken other initiatives that may be reflected in greater installation of high capacity throughout the country, highlighting the obligations of access to conduits and the results of the analysis of the fixed network markets where additional obligations were placed on MEO to encourage competition.
"COVERAGE OBLIGATIONS ARE ESSENTIAL TO ENSURE THAT THE COUNTRY MOVES TOWARDS A MORE HOMOGENEOUS COVERAGE OF THE TERRITORY", UNDERLINES LUÍS GASPAR.
Even so, he recognizes that "even if we had a state of perfect competition, issues related to the asymmetry of power between companies and consumers would still persist", and this led to the creation of initiatives such as the Social Internet Tariff.
Also during the morning, the Secretary of State for Regional Development, Isabel Ferreira, again underlined the importance of network connectivity for the country's development and regretted the fact that there are still several regions of the country without coverage, leaving populations and private companies of the benefits of the Information Society. Reminding that the situation is common in several EU member states, the minister recalled the 2030 goal for a Gigabit society, with which Portugal was also committed to guaranteeing access for the entire population to very high capacity communication networks.
The need for public investment to achieve this goal was also highlighted. "As this coverage is not foreseeable solely through the private initiative, the Government approved at the end of 2022 the national strategy for connectivity in very high capacity electronic communications networks", which is also reflected in the Portugal 2030 strategy, he underlined, explaining that the public funding is a complement to private investment in white areas.
"Along with the European Commission, Portugal wants to ensure that people have the power to take full advantage of the opportunities that the digital decade brings, providing the country and regions within this communications network, putting the country on an equal footing", refers, recalling the importance of connectivity for services in the areas of Civil Protection, Health and Social Assistance, as well as Education.
In this sense, the Secretary of State referred to the PRR's investments in the digital area, with an allocation that represents 22% of the total reserved in this program, which also aims at connectivity in the interior areas. And he underlined that "the Government has practically finalized the entire process of the specifications of the international tender [to cover the white areas] that will open later this semester, even being in the last stages of negotiations with the European Commission".
Source: SAPO TEK