An Interview with: Norbert Westfal, President of BREKO, the leading German Broadband Association, and Managing Director of EWE TEL

Please tell us about your role at Breko/ area of expertise

My name is Norbert Westfal, and I am president of BREKO, the leading German Broadband Association, since November 2014 and the managing director of EWE TEL since 2011. I have previously worked for companies such as Mannesmann, Arcor and Vodafone in various capacities.

In my role as BREKO president, I represent over 430 member companies (including over 230 network operators) which are responsible for 80 % of the competitive fibre deployment (FTTB/H) in Germany. In 2020 alone, BREKO members invested around €2.9 billion, thus making a significant contribution to the nationwide roll-out of fibre and to achieving the broadband targets of the German government.

How do you think Germany’s broadband landscape will evolve in the next year or so?

The general outlook for German fibre deployment is very promising. Besides the inclusion of a real fibre goal in the coalition agreement, the German federal government recently published their so-called “Gigabit Strategy” which lays out 98 measures to push fibre and mobile deployment within the next months and years.

The strategy contains some positive aspects, especially regarding public approval processes, alternative deployment methods and the shortage of skilled workforces.

However, while the strategy does include some good initial approaches, it will not be enough to reach Germany’s very ambitious goals. Especially the missing restructuring of federal funding leaves untapped potential for an accelerated fibre deployment.

What we need is a close and thorough cooperation between the federal government, federal states and municipalities and a clear prioritization for economically viable deployment. This will help us to reach our full potential for the fastest possible deployment of fibre networks, leading to new opportunities in the areas of digitalisation and sustainability.


Where do you see the role of alternative network operators for fibre deployment in Germany?

Even more than in other European countries, alternative network operators consisting of nationwide as well as regional carriers and municipal utilities among others, are indispensable for a fast, comprehensive and sustainable fibre deployment in Germany. Three quarters of current fibre deployment is being realized by alternative network operators, mostly through privately financed deployment.

To keep up this momentum, we need the right political and regulatory framework. Above all, public funding programmes must focus on areas where economically viable deployment cannot be foreseen for the next years. Furthermore, we need faster and more efficient approval processes. And we should support those companies who offer open access to their newly built fibre networks. They should not be forced to allow co-deployment and overbuild.

What are the main challenges for German fibre deployment?

In order to reach its goal of full fibre to every home until 2030, Germany still have to address some issues.

One of the main bottlenecks today are slow approval processes. While the Gigabit Strategy recognizes this as an issue, the main responsibility is with federal states and municipalities, which have to simplify, accelerate and digitize the processes.

Another challenge includes the lack of skilled workforce, which affects all areas of fibre deployment, including civil works and in-house deployment and the approval processes. The new Gigabit Strategy aims to tackle this issue with new initiatives. It is crucial that the lack of skilled workers is addressed in an integrated manner that includes all relevant actors, including associations like BREKO.

Last but not least state funding is one of the challenges in fibre deployment that specifically affect economically viable deployment. Instead of a clear prioritisation of areas that actually require public funding, we are lacking clear rules and thresholds that avoid overfunding. Funded projects usually last two to three times longer than economically viable deployment projects. Without a better prioritisation, deployment is slowed down, public funds are wasted and the general costs for deployment rise.


What part of Network X are you most looking forward to?

I am mostly looking forward to the large number of exciting talks, discussions and presentations on the future trends and outlooks in fibre deployment during the Broadband World Forum. BREKO board member Wolfram Rinner will participate in one of the panels, sharing our, the alternative network operator’s view on fibre deployment in Germany and beyond.

I am equally excited about the opportunity to meet old contacts and make new connections in the world of fibre, and exchanging views with stakeholders from the industry, operators and policy during the two days in Amsterdam.