Balkans Digital Highway Initiative

May 9, 2017

The World Bank Balkans Digital Highway Initiative is a new study that will investigate whether it is possible to improve the regional interconnectivity in the Western Balkans and increase access to the Internet for people by establishing a regional broadband internet infrastructure over transmission grids of state-owned energy companies.

The initiative may pave the way for the first joint collaboration on digital connectivity among Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia, if the assumptions on the significance of optical fiber assets owned by the operators of transmission systems are justified from an economic, technical, and regulatory point of view.

" The optical fibre groundwire installed over the years by local energy utilities could be leased out commercially to the telecom sector and thus support expansion of broadband connectivity, even to the most remote areas, enhancing inter-connectivity of the countries on a national and regional scale. That the region’s energy and telecom sectors have never before worked much on this particular agenda must be a matter of low awareness of commercial and social benefits of infrastructure sharing, which we aim to rectify through this newly-started initiative. "

Natalija Gelvanovska

World Bank Regulatory Specialist and co-Task Team Leader

The initiative pursues a highly collaborative approach encouraging participation from telecom and energy ministries, regulators, transmission system operators, and internet service providers. It is expected that in a year’s time, regional governments will be fully informed on their strategic options regarding whether and how to pursue a strategy for sharing regional infrastructure with neighboring countries.

Collaboration between the electricity and telecom sectors is a natural fit. Through their transmission grids, electric utilities in the Balkans are already reaching many end-users that telecom companies would like to reach, and both sectors stand to benefit by sharing unused fibre.

" By commercializing and selling access or ‘sharing’ their unused fibre to telecom providers, electric utilities can monetize the latent value of their existing infrastructure, creating new revenue streams. "

Rhedon Begolli

Energy Specialist and co-Task Team Leader

The Western Balkans lacks wide-ranging, high-speed broadband internet coverage due to the region’s mountainous terrain, demographic patterns, and recent history of armed conflicts - which left the telecom infrastructure patchy. At the same time, the region’s demand for broadband as an enabler for other information and communication technologies (ICT) and digital transformation is only projected to increase, driven by population and economic growth.

" Infrastructure sharing enables countries to use their infrastructure assets more efficiently by reducing infrastructure investments (civil works) required to expand broadband networks and provides new revenue sources for utilities. After supporting the development of an Global Infrastructure Sharing Toolkit as well as related technical assistance in Kosovo, PPIAF is delighted to see this agenda being promoted on a regional scale. "

Francois Bergere

PPIAF Program Manager

Funding for this activity was provided by the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF).


The Public – Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) is a multi-donor technical assistance facility that is financed by 11 multilateral and bilateral donors. Established in 1999 as a joint initiative of the governments of Japan and the United Kingdom, working closely with and housed inside the World Bank Group, PPIAF is a catalyst for increasing private sector participation in emerging markets. Its mission is to help eliminate poverty and increase shared prosperity in developing countries by facilitating private sector involvement in infrastructure.