German-speaking Community signs MoU with Proximus, Ethias to deploy fiber

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By 2026, 36,000 homes and businesses in the German-speaking Community of Belgium will have access to fiber. This is the ambitious objective of the memorandum of understanding signed on Monday 16 May between the German-speaking Minister of Culture, Sports, Employment and Media Isabelle Weykmans, Proximus CEO Guillaume Boutin and Ethias CEO Philippe Lallemand.

The objective of these three parties is to set up a public-private partnership to deploy fiber in the German-speaking Community, including the most rural areas. Such a partnership in Belgium in the field of fiber is unprecedented.

As the connectivity needs of Belgian customers continue to grow, fiber has clearly become the broadband technology of the future. As far as residential customers are concerned, it allows all family members to (home)work, surf, stream videos and play online games simultaneously, without any delay or loss of quality. As for businesses, fiber offers huge advantages as well, allowing them to exploit all the opportunities of digitalization and remain competitive, flexible and innovative. Offering unparalleled speeds and an exceptional experience, it paves the way for new ways of living and working. Furthermore, fiber is also environmentally friendly, less energy-consuming and has a longer life cycle than any other fixed internet technology.

In this context, the government of the German-speaking Community decided at the beginning of 2020 to launch a project for the deployment of fiber throughout most of its territory. After a feasibility study and a broad consultation of the telecom operators’ market, as well as many financial actors, this agreement between the three partners marks a common intention to meet the ambition of building a passive optical fiber network which is open to all operators on non-discriminatory terms.

A project that fits with the times we live in

Based on these same findings, Proximus launched its “Fiber for Belgium” investment plan five years ago, which aims to deploy a fiber network open to all operators in the majority of Belgium’s businesses and urban centers, with the ultimate goal of covering at least 70% of the Belgian population by 2028. This plan is clearly on the right track, as by the end of March 2022, 909,000 homes and businesses in 50 cities and towns in Belgium were already connected to fiber.

Not only in a few cities, but in all German-speaking communities
Thanks to the memorandum of understanding signed between the Government of the German-speaking Community, Ethias and Proximus, and thanks to the subsidies of the Recovery plan for Europe and the broad financial support of Ethias over the entire duration of the project, this Public Private Partnership (PPP) will make it possible to deploy fiber in most of the territory of the German-speaking Community by 2026, including in the most rural areas. This corresponds to more than 36,000 homes and businesses. This will greatly improve broadband Internet coverage in the so-called “white areas”, which also meets the desire expressed by the Federal Government and Minister Petra De Sutter. The objective is for the majority of the citizens of the German-speaking communities in the country to be able to switch to fiber within the next 4 years.

This ambitious plan will be realized through the first Belgian public-private partnership in the field of fiber. This partnership, which has yet to be finalized, will bring together Proximus and Ethias, each of which will hold approximately 50% of the shares. Proximus will initially be a minority shareholder with the option of eventually becoming a majority shareholder. As far as the Government of the German-speaking Community is concerned, it will hold a share in order to ensure the public interest of the project. This PPP agreement will also get the support of local authorities and municipalities to enable faster fiber deployment.

Isabelle Weykmans, Minister of Culture, Sports, Employment and Media in the Government of the German-speaking Community, commented, “A fiber network is of paramount importance in almost all areas of life. In the very context of the constant increase in data volumes and digitization in a more global way, we do need fiber technology in our territory. Indeed, only this cutting-edge technology will allow us in the future to have high-quality Internet access and thus allow our region to remain competitive and meet the demands of our citizens.”

“I am really excited to be part of the first Belgian public-private partnership in the field of optical fiber. This kind of partnership is an excellent way to facilitate the extension of fiber in rural areas. This unprecedented agreement with Ethias and the Government of the German-speaking Community is perfectly in line with Proximus’ strategy to extend access to fiber to all citizens and businesses in Belgium,” said, Guillaume Boutin, CEO of the Proximus Group.

Philippe Lallemand, CEO of Ethias, said, “Investing in innovative long-term projects with a societal return and a positive and sustainable impact fits perfectly with our corporate strategy. The recent health crisis has highlighted the importance of being able to keep in touch with family and friends, work, school, public and private service providers in all circumstances. Ethias is a long-standing partner of the public services and is now the leading insurer. This public-private partnership between the German-speaking Community, Ethias and Proximus demonstrates our desire to further strengthen this relationship and play a major role in the digital transformation.”