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Summary "Smart Digging"

The Netherlands has now reached the stage where the use and the capacity of the infrastructure provided for internet traffic has grown to such an extent that the expectation is that within a few years the demand will bring about a high-quality, intricate network.

The Smart Digging report concerns provisions within an urban environment. No conclusions may therefore be drawn with regard to the necessity or the possibilities for glass fibre in the countryside. Requirements and costs will be different there and not necessarily less than in the 'town'. Real estate prices could rise faster there than in towns. We therefore also argue the case for separate research into the position of broadband connections in the countryside. We must avoid the situation where too many homes in the outlying areas remain in a 'not-connected' category, precisely where the need for communication with each other and with schools, health-care e-businesses and utilities for example, is probably greatest.

Usefulness and Necessity

Internet penetration in the Netherlands is extremely high. However it is in no way the broadband internet access as foreseen by the expert group. If the Netherlands wants to be a forerunner in computerised Europe and wants to stimulate the provision and use of internet services, then the bottle-neck in the first kilometre from work or home needs to be removed. The super information highway cannot be used to its full potential without broad access roads.

Asymmetric services are expected to shift over to symmetric services both for the business user and the consumer. This will also create robust demand for networks that can process large symmetrical dataflow. This is not possible using the present xDSL and cable modems. In spite of the cost of laying (which largely lies in the excavation work) the demand for broadband will greatly exceed the possibilities of the current infrastructure.

In this report we describe a new situation: the start of a new learning curve and the construction of a new connection infrastructure primarily for computer traffic. It is therefore essential to create the conditions under which this sort of intricate glass fibre infrastructure can be constructed in the Netherlands faster than or at least as fast as in those countries with which we would wish to be compared.

This infrastructure is not likely to be realised in the short term under the present conditions. Nevertheless this is advisable for various reasons. Up until now the government view has been that the connection of all households to a broadband network is a matter for market forces. In the opinion of the expert group, however, there is indeed a role to be played by both central and local government. On the one hand there are issues that can and must only be taken on by the central authorities, while on the other hand the expert group sees local authorities as being responsible for and directing the implementation. The expert group views co-ordination of glass fibre connections by the local authority as the only possible solution in order to realise Fibre to the Home without restricting access to services or to future opportunities.

A government subsidy is needed to ensure the separation of infrastructure and services and to accelerate the connection process.

General strategy and municipal execution

The most important objective has to be faster realisation of a municipal connection infrastructure that supports a high quality services package of high-speed information services. Although the expert group sees that central government does have a role to play, it would be impossible for them to take on the construction of an intricate broadband network themselves. Local government however can indeed play a significant role in this. The expert group has two recommendations hereby:

Recommendation 1:

Build a broadband dimension into existing activities

The expert group puts forward the case for making better use of the opportunities to construct broadband infrastructures efficiently. A number of possibilities are worth consideration:

  1. Setting up municipal underground zoning plans.
  2. Adapting the building regulations for new buildings.
  3. Combining the laying of broadband with laying UMTS base stations.

Recommendation 2:

Stimulating municipal initiatives

The expert group suggests two models to local authorities in order to accelerate the introduction of glass fibre.

  1. Amalgamating the demand for connection from consumers
  2. Amalgamating the demand for connection from medium-sized users

Amalgamating the demand provides sufficient density of those interested in being connected so that the trenches can be dug and cables laid all at one time in each district. The local authority has control over the contracting per district.

Suggested government action

The calculations (appendix 1) show that a government subsidy of approximately 3 billion guilders will stimulate investment of around 17 billion guilders from the business sector. Over a period of 10 years therefore an intricate glass fibre infrastructure can be realised covering 90 percent of the country. The expert group feels, however, that the Netherlands (along with many other countries) is still in the early stages of the learning curve. We therefore recommend starting by experimenting with both models outlined here. A state incentive of 400 million should be adequate to set up a few substantial experiments. Providing that local authorities capitalise on this with sufficient vision, decisiveness and commitment of resources, the Netherlands has a chance of (still) being included among the front runners internationally.

Once the necessary experience has been gained and it can be seen more clearly which parts of the country will not be served by market forces, the expert group suggests then looking at to what extent the government needs to invest structurally in order to ensure that every citizen eventually has access to glass fibre.

More about this report

This report has been drawn up by the Broadband expert group consisting of J. E. Andriessen (chair of Internet Society Nederland), E. Huizer (director of business development NOB), F. G.H. van den Broek (managing director, Level 3 communications), F. E. Schaake (independent consultant, also associate of M&I/Partners), J. W. van Till (network architect Stratix Consulting Group), J. Tammenoms Bakker (director, GigaPort), C. A. M Neggers (director, SURFnet also Trustee of, J.K. Klooster (director, Verdonck, Klooster & Associates), H.I.M. Nieuwenhuis MBA (director strategy and technology PinkRoccade), F. Kappetijn (manager and business partner Ex'tent), J. L. Volmuller (manager and business partner Arcadis), V. Everts (venture partner Insight Capital) and J. Prins (former director of, founder of Prins Internet). Representatives: J. J. van Scheijen (departmental head, Ministry of Economic Affairs), T. Maes (director of Kennisnet foundation) and J. W. Weck (director general of Ministry of Transport and Communications).