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What steps is Germany taking to improve internet speed?

Germany is known for being behind when it comes to internet speed, coverage and embracing digital changes. But the German government is trying to change that. Here's a look at what's going on.

A woman in Germany uses a phone and laptop. Germany is working on a digital strategy.
A woman in Germany uses a phone and laptop. Germany is working on a digital strategy. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Anyone who’s been in Germany will probably have faced issues with their wifi, whether it’s a slow connection or lack of it. 

The country is also known for being slow on the uptake of moving paperwork to a digital format, with some services even requiring a fax machine at times.

And for years, people have been dreaming of being able to have an electronic patient file that would bundle all medical results and make it easy to pass them on to doctors with just one click.

Germany’s digital strategy, put forward by the coalition government of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) aims to address these things. 

It was set to be discussed in the Bundestag on Thursday – but does it go far enough?

What do the plans say?

By 2025, at least half of all households in Germany should have a fiber-optic connection, and by 2026, there should be interference-free smartphone coverage throughout the country, under the plans. 

This is not new – the expansion has been going on for some time and is part of the gigabit strategy, which is also being discussed in the Bundestag.

It involves things like new laying techniques, which would make it possible to expand much faster, Maik Außendorf, head of the Green party’s Digital Affairs told German broadcaster, Tagesschau. By 2030, the entire country should have fibre-optic lines.

READ MORE: How Germany is facing up to its slow internet problem

Nadine Schön, digital policy spokesperson for the opposition CDU/CSU, says that Germany needs to become a less paperwork-orientated country. 

“The Finns are the happiest people in Europe, and when you ask them why, they say – ‘the state relieves us of all the paperwork’,” she told the Tagesschau. “They can do their tax returns on their mobile phones in eight minutes; they can do everything digitally.”

The digital strategy portrays a convenient, new world that many people in Germany have been craving for a long time. For instance, thanks to digital identity setups, people could authenticate themselves at a public authority from home. They could then apply for a new registration (Anmeldung) after moving, or get a new resident’s parking permit from their couch.

Companies and startups would receive better support to simplify the often time-consuming processes with government agencies.

But both Schön (CDU/CSU) and Außendorf (Greens), who sit on the Digital Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, are not yet satisfied with the strategy.

The conservatives are introducing their own motion to the debate, and are pressing for even better business support for the digital transformation. 

Außendorf, on the other hand, is concerned that there is still no defined digital budget, even though this is stipulated in the coalition agreement.

In his view, this is a key point for advancing important IT projects in a targeted manner.

Sustainability is also an important factor to Außendorf when it comes to the digital strategy. He is keen on unconventional ideas, citing the example of a greenhouse on the roof of a data centre in North Friesland that uses the waste heat from a server farm.

“Data centres consume an enormous amount of energy, and a large part of it goes into the environment as waste heat,” he says. “This waste heat can be used in a variety of ways, for example by coupling it to local and district heating networks or for heating greenhouses.”

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POLITICS

German Finance Minister calls for cap on TV tax after Queen’s funeral coverage

Germany's Finance Minister Christian Lindner is calling for a freeze on broadcasting fees as well as savings, citing the example of coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's funeral for where savings could have been made.

German Finance Minister calls for cap on TV tax after Queen's funeral coverage

Every household in Germany has to pay the broadcasting contribution fee – called the Rundfunkbeitrag – regardless of whether there is a radio, television, or computer in the home or not. 

Lindner said he saw large savings potentials among the state broadcasters, referring to the coverage in Germany of the Queen’s funeral on Monday. 

“The fact that (German broadcasters) ARD, ZDF and Phoenix are broadcasting live and in parallel from the Queen’s funeral from London, and are each in London with their own staff, vividly demonstrates that there is considerable potential for savings,” he told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

READ ALSO: Do I have to pay Germany’s Rundfunkbeitrag?

He also called for a freeze on future fee hikes.

As The Local reported, the tax went up in 2021 from €17.50 to the current €18.36. It can be paid by direct debit or by quarterly invoice and is the main source of income for public broadcasters in Germany. 

“Suspending fee increases relieves the burden on people at a time of rapidly rising prices,” said Lindner. 

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner.

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Lindner also said it would serve as an incentive for broadcasters to become leaner and focus on their core mission. He added: “I’m sure that cooperation can save large sums of money without having a negative impact on programming.”

A spokeswoman for NDR, the broadcaster responsible for ARD’s reporting, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that the staff costs were comparatively low, but did not give details.

In total, ARD and ZDF sent just under 50 employees to London, including presenters, experts and production staff, the statement said. ZDF said it has been alternating other royal events with ARD by arrangement for several years, but the death of Elizabeth II was an exception. In future, broadcasters will return to the old practice. 

At the weekend, Lindner called on top staff at public broadcasters to cap their salaries, telling Bild am Sonntag that “no director should earn more than the chancellor”.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pay Germany’s TV tax, or (legally) avoid it

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