Reaching for the mountains in Romania (Ro-NET)

Ro-NET broadband infrastructure bridges digital gap

In the Ro-NET Project, Romania’s Ministry for Information Society (MSI) is overseeing the construction of a high-speed telecommunications backhaul network, using optical fibre and GPRS radio signals.

By the end of 2016, the project will have connected 783 towns, villages and cities, mostly in hard-to-reach part of the country.

The remoteness of many of the rural settlements, combined with the country's low gross domestic product, low average revenue per user, and low use of computers, makes providing Internet access to these geographically challenging areas commercially unattractive. Romania wants to offer broadband Internet access to most of it citizens and started Ro-NET to bridge the infrastructure gap.

The EUR 84 million budget for Ro-NET is 82.7 per cent funded by the European Regional Development Fund. The remainder is funded by the Romanian government.

Policy Context

The Ro-NET project is part of the Romania's broadband plan, which in turn is one of the components of the country's Digital Agenda. "Alignment with the EU's Digital Agenda and the Europe 2020 policies and strategies is a key motive", says Corneliu Mănescu, an MSI project manager who has been preparing the Ro-NET project since 2011.

The aims of Romania’s national broadband plan include the getting local public administrations online, promoting the use of electronic communications, and supporting small and medium sized enterprises in using digital infrastructure and services. It aims to achieve 100 per cent coverage for connection speeds of over 30 [Mbps] by 2020, with about half of all households seeing a speed of 100 Mbps.

Description of target users and groups

The target groups include all citizens, companies and public administrations in the area covered by Ro-NET.

The telecommunications network will reach some of Romania's smallest towns and villages, says project manager Mănescu. “The biggest hundred of these villages have just over 1,000 inhabitants, the smallest have about 30 households.”

The project also involves many telecom operators and Internet service providers, Mănescu says, "from the smallest to the biggest." These firms will be developing the [local loop] networks for each of the Ro-NET towns and villages.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

In 2012, a team of specialists working for Romania’s Ministry for Information Society (MSI) began preparing for the construction of the Ro-NET interconnection telecommunications network.

The team is supported by an external management consultancy.

Already in 2009 MSI prepared and published its pre-notification for the project. In 2014 MSI published its call for tender seeking a consortium of telecom operators to deliver the most appropriate technology solution.

The MSI website has a section dedicated to the Ro-NET project. MSI aims to use this section to interactively show how the construction is progressing, with information updated in real time.

 

 

Table 1: Timeline for the Ro-NET project
Ro-NET timeline  
July 2009 Pre-notification State Aid – public model
December 2009 Pre-notification State Aid – private model
June and October 2010 ANCOM studies and opinion on target areas for intervention for RoNet
December 2010 DG Regio opinion on RoNet Status
June 2011 Pre-notification State Aid – updated
Aug 2011 Project schedule – RoNet
January 2012 Pre-feasibility study and draft operational model
February 2012 Pre-notification State Aid – updated
July 2012 Project schedule – RoNet
May 2013 Pre-notification State Aid – updated (final)
June 2013 Feasibility Study and CBA – first draft
October 2013 Communication RoNet – Ministry of Environment on EIA
October 2013 Feasibility Study and CBA – final draft
May 2014 CBA Excel Sheet update and revised Application Form
June 2014 Updated CBA Updated Application Form
August - October Public Consultation Tender documents
October 2014 Avis Conforme NRA
November 2014 Call for tender

Once the broadband network is in place, the Ro-NET operators will managed and maintain the network for the next 18 years.

Technology solution

Through the Ro-NET Project, Romania’s Ministry for Information Society (MSI) is overseeing the construction of a high-speed telecommunications backhaul network, using optical fiber and GPRS radio signals.

In a telecommunications network, the backhaul network links the many small sub-networks to the main 'backbone' network.

The fibre-optic cables will offer speeds of up to 10 Gbps. Isolated towns and villages, where laying cables is impractical, will be connected using GPRS radio signals, with a maximum capacity of 1.5 Gbps.

Technology choice: Standards-based technology

Main results, benefits and impacts

Bridging the digital divide is Ro-NET's main aim, explains Mănescu. "The most important aspect is to give all citizens and businesses in the Ro-NET area the same services and the same quality as those offered to people living and working in Romania's major cities."

Ro-NET will provide:

  • citizens easy access to information, distance learning opportunities and potential teleworking jobs;
  • more efficient management of businesses, especially of small and medium sized enterprises, leading to greater efficiency and competitiveness;
  • new opportunities for entertainment, tourism and culture;
  • improved communication between healthcare providers;
  • the opportunity for public administrations to modernise their processes by delivering services digitally.

In short, says Mănescu, Ro-NET is expected to provide economic growth, an increase in jobs and general improvement in the quality of life.

The benefits of broadband access to the less developed regions of a country have been the subject of many international studies. These have shown that the main long-term benefits anticipated are:

  • Alleviation of social exclusion in geographically isolated groups;
  • A boost in regional business activity, thanks to access to more customers, the ability for enterprises to provide new services, and to access relevant information quickly and cheaply;
  • Improvement in citizen's quality of life, thanks to easier dealings with government departments and business, and less need to travel;
  • Tele-medicine can directly prevent deaths. It also reduces the need for local clinics, cuts the cost of medical insurance and medical transport, and improves the management of emergency situations;
  • Distance-learning can increase both the quality and accessibility of teaching, and so promote life-long education;
  • In eGovernment, easier interaction between government and citizens and companies can increase the efficiency and accessibility of public administration.
  • eEconomy: broadband communications contribute to the e-business development, having as a result cutting costs and increase of companies’ competitiveness

 

Return on investment

According to a feasibility study, the investment in the construction of the Ro-NET backhaul network will provide broadband coverage for the first time to about 2 per cent of the entire Romanian population.

Return on investment: Other

Lessons learnt

Since many of the settlements to be covered by Ro-NET are difficult to reach, existing service providers have historically been unwilling to provide Internet access. As a result, a state-run project is essential if this part of the country of ever to get broadband coverage.

This is the first project of its kind in Romania, and construction will not begin until early next year. Lessons learned so far are therefore limited to the preparatory work and from the first phase. Project manager Mănescu has two main suggestions:

  • Pay close attention to the organisation of communication about the project that involves all the stakeholders. Openness and ready sharing of information contribute to smooth-running processes.
  • Be aware that changes in political leadership and management could hinder the project.

According to Mănescu, the main lesson learned at MSI is how to adapt existing legislation to provide the legal framework for such national projects. He also recommends that projects to stay in close touch with the European Commission, to gain access to best practices and lessons learned from similar projects. The exchange also helps to thoroughly understand the strategic vision for the EU, for example the EC's Digital Agenda.

Documentation

Romania's broadband plan

RoNet Project | Romania

Country Information Romania

Digital Agenda for Europe / Romania

Start/End date

The design and construction phases started in January 2015. Both are planned to finish on 31 December. The operation phase will begin on 1 January 2016 and is planned to last 18 years.

Effectively, the work for the first phase started in April 2015 and will be completed by October 2015.

Funding

This is a not-for-profit project, so Community assistance is essential to its implementation. The Romanian government is not currently capable of funding such a large project.

The EUR 84 million budget for Ro-NET is 82.7 per cent funded by the European Regional Development Fund. The remainder is funded by the Romanian government.

Ro-NET is Design-Built-Operate, explains project manager Mănescu, and the Community assistance is limited to DB part. "The network operators are taking the risk for the upkeep of the network for the next 18 years. Their contract includes a clawback provision."

Geographic Area

The project will reach over 700 cities , towns and villages all over Romania. Many of them are in the hard-to-reach areas, such as the Măcin Mountains, which lie immediately south of the border with Ukraine and the Danube Delta, and mountainous Harghita County in eastern Transylvania.

Scope: Local (city or municipality), National, Regional (sub-national)

Categorisation

Type of document
General case study

Attachment

Documentation
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