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EXPLAINED: How Germany is trying to tackle its slow internet problem

German internet is known for being blighted by dead zones and slow download speeds, but the government is hoping a new law will help bring the country into the 21st century. Here's how.

Allansbach am Bodensee
The village of Allansbach am Bodensee in Baden-Württemberg. People in more rural areas of Germany often have to content with slow internet or a patchy connection. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Kästle

What’s going on?

It’s no secret that internet in Germany isn’t quite up to scratch. In fact, it is often one of the first things foreigners notice after moving to the country.

Most people expect Europe’s largest economy to also be a digital powerhouse, but time and time again the country ends up near the bottom of the ranking list in terms of its internet download speeds and latency. 

In 2017, Germany came 25th in a ranking of average internet speeds and had slipped further down the list to 38th place by 2021. Though speeds have been gradually improving over the past few years, the latest survey put Germany behind at least 18 other European countries in terms of its internet speed, including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Hungary, France and Romania. 

To try and tackle the problem, the traffic light coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) have drafted a bill that would give everyone in the country the right to fast broadband. 

It was agreed on by the cabinet on Wednesday and will be put to parliament over the coming weeks or months. 

READ ALSO: ‘We’re running late on this’: Deutsche Bahn promises better Wifi on German trains by 2026

OK. How fast is fast? 

Not insanely fast, unfortunately.

According to the draft, fixed-network internet connections everywhere in Germany must in future provide at least 10 megabits per second (Mbit/s) for downloads and 1.7 megabits per second for uploads to their customers. 

This seems particularly low in light of the fact that Germany was recorded as having average download speeds of around 41 Mbit/s back in 2020. Though this looked bad in comparison to somewhere like the Netherlands, where 70 Mbit/s was the average speed, it does make the 10 Mbit/s target seem a bit under-ambitious.

It’s worth remembering though that this an absolute minimum standard – so most houses should expect something far above the 10 Mbit/s. And this kind of speed is generally good enough for relatively fast HD streaming and excellent internet browsing. 

In addition to the minimum download and upload speeds, the government says the latency (reaction time) should also be no more than 150 milliseconds.

Why are they aiming so low? 

According to Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP), the minimum requirements are intended to ensure “the digital participation” of all those “who have so far been cut off from coverage”.

In other words, the government is more concerned with bringing basic broadband to people in more remote areas than making Wifi speeds insanely fast for everyone else. 

Wissing also mentioned that the minimum standards would be redefined year by year. This will take into account the development of internet use in Germany, which changes over the years due to network expansion and new tariffs, he said.

READ ALSO: More than half of Germans regularly experience bad mobile coverage

What are people saying?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the opposition conservatives aren’t particularly impressed with the draft. 

Describing the targets as “unambitious”, digital policy spokesman Reinhard Brandl (CDU) said people’s modern internet usage habits were already being ignored.

“We have considerable doubts as to whether a 10-megabit download rate and a 1.7-megabit upload rate per connection are sufficient as a basic service for a family with children,” Brandl said. 

Rheinhard Brandl (CDU)

Reinhard Brandl (CDU) speaks in the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

When will the changes come into force?

Originally, the ordinance was due to come into effect on June 1st – but the bill still needs to get the approval from the Bundestag and Bundesrat before it can become law. 

For that reason, the Transport Ministry is now expecting to miss the June deadline and could introduce the rules later in summer or autumn instead. 

What will it mean when the law changes?

For the first time, it will mean that people in Germany have a legal right to certain broadband speeds. This gives them grounds for complaining to network providers if they aren’t getting the minimum speed. 

It could also give the Federal Network Agency a push to speed up the roll-out of infrastructure that can improve broadband speeds. In some cases, it could arrange for new cables to be laid. 

READ ALSO: German mobile networks improve coverage in signal ‘dead zones’

Member comments

  1. The telecom company has to make it cheap, which is not the case. And you don’t get an automatic upgrade. You stay in your old contract…

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GERMAN TRADITIONS

Why Germans are being warned not to cycle drunk on Father’s Day

Germany has a special tradition of drunken antics on May 26th each year. But doctors are concerned that a brigade of drunk cyclists could end up in accidents.

Why Germans are being warned not to cycle drunk on Father's Day

What’s going on? 

Just a few days before Father’s Day on May 26th, German doctors issued an urgent warning for people to avoid riding their bicycles under the influence. 

According to physicians at the Asklepios clinic in Hamburg, the May 26th bank holiday – which is both Ascension Day and Father’s Day – is the time of year when the majority of alcohol-related bike and car accidents occur. 

Even New Year’s Eve – a  day of firework anarchy and all-night boozing – tends to be outstripped by Father’s Day when it comes to drunken antics and accidents in Germany. And doctors say the problem is getting worse. 

A few months after the start of the pandemic in 2020, revellers set an unfortunate record on Father’s Day when a whopping 657 bike accidents were recorded. Around half of the cyclists – 312 – were under the influence of alcohol at the time.

This year, following the scrapping of most Covid rules, there are concerns that things could get even more crazy than usual. 

READ ALSO: What you should know about Austria and Germany’s ‘Stammtisch’ tradition

Why are there so many drunk cyclists on Father’s Day? 

For more religious types, Ascension Day may be best known at a time to celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven to be reunited with the Holy Father. 

But in Germany, this celebration of the father/son relationship has transitioned over the years. 

In fact, Father’s Day in Germany isn’t so much a day when children hastily buy ‘Dad’ gifts and cards with pints of beer on them on Amazon (though gifts are appreciated). 

It’s more of celebration of male bonding, where groups of men do “traditional” things like binge-drinking and heading out on the town with a strict “no women allowed” policy. In some places, it’s even referred to more often as Männertag (Men’s Day) than Vatertag (Father’s Day). 

Man with Bollerwagen Father's Day

A man pulls a Bollerwagen loaded up with drinks on Father’s Day in North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: picture alliance / Ina Fassbender/dpa | Ina Fassbender

The tradition apparently dates back to the 18th century, when the day was dedicated to a celebration of fathers. Men would be apparently be carted into the village and the man who had fathered the most children would receive a prize (which was normally a large ham).

These days, the cart has remained a prominent feature of the revelry. 

In fact, one of the most popular Father’s Day activities is to fill up a trolley or Bollerwagen with beers and go on a booze-soaked walk or cycle trip with a group of male friends.

Another option is to cut out the middle man and simply rent a beer bike – a big bar on wheels that careers through the town – for your group.

As you can imagine, this doesn’t always lead to the best road safety practices. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Germans get wholly wasted on Ascension Day

But isn’t it all just a bit of fun? 

A lot of people obviously cherish their day-drinking rituals on Father’s Day, and the raucous traditions is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

That’s despite the best efforts of politicians like EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who criticised the fact that fathers didn’t spend enough time with their children on Father’s Day back when she was German Family Minister. 

But doctors are keen to highlight the dangers of being legless while in charge of a bicycle. 

“Riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol significantly increases the risk of falling,” said Michael Hoffmann, head physician at the Clinic for Trauma Surgery, Orthopaedics and Sports Orthopaedics at the Asklepios Klinik St. Georg.

For drunk people who do get injured, it’s also more difficult to assess the severity of a head injury – since coordination isn’t generally the strong point of the inebriated anyway. 

Father's Day

A group of men wheel their “Dad
Mobile” through Weßling, Bavaria, on Father’s Day. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Peter Kneffel

Studies also show that the risk of serious or even fatal injuries is about twice as high for drunken cyclists as for sober ones.

“The impaired reflexes under the influence of alcohol certainly play a role here,” explained the head physician of neurosurgery at the Asklepios Clinic North – Heidberg, Paul Kremer, adding that e-bikes were particularly risky.

“They reach higher speeds without much effort, which an intoxicated person can hardly assess properly,” he said. 

Unfortunately, Father’s Day can also be a dangerous time for those who keep their wits about them, too. Apparently, sober cyclists can often suffer injuries when they’re involved in accidents with drunken day-trippers. 

“Anyone who rides a bicycle under the influence of alcohol not only runs the risk of injuring themselves, but also endangers other road users,” Hoffmann warned.

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