Ultra-fast 5G internet goes on the back burner as regions and federal fail to agree

The chance of Belgian internet users having access to the latest ultra-fast 5G technology by 2020 have virtually vanished, according to telecommunications minister Philippe De Backer, who blamed “a banal question of money”.

A meeting of the concertation committee made up of representatives of federal government and language communities broke up without agreement this week, having failed to agree at their last meeting a month before. The question: how is the income to be divided up after the auction of 5G frequencies to internet providers?

In the past, the carve-up has been 80% to federal and 20% to the communities, with 60% for the Flemish community and 40% for the French-speaking community, from an expected total income of 680 million euros. However as the internet evolves to include a host of media providers, it begins to impinge on the media responsibilities of the regions – and the regions are asking for a larger share of the cake.

According to industry magazine DataNews, De Backer left the meeting “angry and disappointed”. Another meeting is due to be held next month. But even if an agreement can be reached among the parties by then, it has no chance of being ratified by parliament before the end of the session prior to the federal elections in May.

The chance of Belgium being 5G-ready by the initial deadline of 2020 is therefore non-existent, experts say. According to De Backer’s office, the delay could extend to as long as two to three years.

“This threatens to leave Belgium limping along behind,” De Backer told the VRT. “A banal question of money from the regions is blocking the economic future of the country. That’s a great pity for the country and for the leading position I want us to be in.” And he revealed that the communities had also rejected his proposal to hold the auction for frequencies before the election, while leaving the question of dividing up the income for later.

“Flanders just wants what’s due to her,” said Flemish minister Ben Weyts. His French-speaking counterpart André Flahaut was more measured: “There is a blockage, but it is temporary, I think.”

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