Which sustainability milestones in particular is Deutsche Glasfaser working towards?
We, as Deutsche Glasfaser, are working towards the creation of sustainable communities and removing the rural-urban digital divide. Our goal is to open up most of the rural areas not yet served in Germany, and provide them with a reliable digital infrastructure. Without fibre, there can be no digitalisation, and without digitalisation there can be no successful economic and social development.
By taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by digitalisation, we can create what we call a 'digital citizens' network'. That means ensuring equal opportunities and connections to enable social and democratic participation and to improve quality of life and prosperity in regions beyond the cities.
"I'm convinced that the future network will be driven by cooperation when it comes to the construction and by competition when it comes to services"
Will rolling out fibre to rural areas also help achieve climate-change policy goals?
Absolutely. The expansion of the fibre network slows the densification of cities, mitigates traffic and housing issues and helps to control the cost of living. All of these issues are alleviated if people can live and work in rural areas while having a reliable high-speed internet connection.
Fibre also gives significantly lower emissions than traditional copper networks, and the way we construct it is less invasive: in terms of technology, you don't have to go as deep as with traditional networks. The durability of fibre is also much higher, which means our network savings allow us to invest more in developing rural areas.
To what extent will you need to work with the wider industry in order to accelerate the roll-out of fibre across Germany?
I'm convinced that the future network will be driven by cooperation when it comes to the construction and by competition when it comes to services.
We want to avoid the parallel expansion of several fibre-optic networks, so we've opened our network to other market participants. This will ensure a high capitalisation and a better utilisation of the network capacity. At the same time, it's also good for customers, because they have a free choice in respect of the provider as well as the offers.
"Without fibre, there can be no digitalisation, and without digitalisation there can be no successful economic and social development"
When it comes to funding, do firms need to prove their green credentials to secure financing? What are the challenges around this?
Financing has changed over the last three to four years. Investors are increasingly taking sustainability into account in their decisions.
However, in terms of ESG disclosures, there is not enough transparency. It's becoming more demanding for companies and also for investors seeking compatibility, because there are several different standards: frameworks like GRI, CDP, SASB. Harmonising ESG through full disclosure would make a lot of sense.
Could EU taxonomy regulations help to achieve this harmony within the telecoms sector?
The EU taxonomy regulation is still very new, so we're still trying to understand its guidance and the implications. But I believe it's an opportunity for the telecoms sector to highlight its environmental benefits, particularly in respect of fibre infrastructure and its ability to mitigate climate change through digitalisation.
Your firm has committed €7 billion in the coming years to the roll-out of fast-speed internet infrastructure in Germany. How will you make sure that this investment is used sustainably?
This investment goes hand in hand with the implementation of important ESG targets. We are therefore capturing key ESG data to improve performance, reduce emissions, and address issues such as diversity, all of which are high on the management and shareholder agenda.
Through our investment in fibre, we're also addressing sustainability KPIs such as power consumption per bit rate; a fibre network saves 17 times more energy per bit rate compared to a traditional copper network. If the whole of Germany switched to a real fibre network, we would save up to 1,100 MW of energy compared to copper-based networks – that's the equivalent of the output of a coal-fired power plant.
"We are working towards the creation of sustainable communities and removing the rural-urban digital divide"
That's a huge driver for transformation. With that in mind, what makes a successful changemaker in your sector?
You need openness and empathy. You need to ask yourself what the person on the other side of the table is thinking and what's on his or her agenda. But, most importantly, you need staying power. There are a lot of people who will tell you, "We have always done it this way. Why do we want to do it another way?" You need to constantly push against this, so, without staying power, it's hard to be a real changemaker.