The European Commission (EC) has ruled that the UK’s National Broadband Scheme for 2016-2020, which aims to connect as many homes and businesses as possible throughout the UK to high speed broadband, complies with EU state aid rules. This decision comes just over one month after the UK notified the scheme to the Commission on 21 April 2016. In a press release confirming the development, the EC noted that the National Broadband Scheme plans to increase coverage of high speed broadband in the UK by deploying infrastructure capable of speeds of more than 30Mbps to as many premises as possible.
The EC’s state aid assessment aims to ensure that public funding does not take the place of private investment, while making sure that other service providers can use the publicly funded infrastructure on a non-discriminatory basis. The Commission said it had worked constructively with UK authorities, and noted that the UK can fully fund the investment to roll out next generation access (NGA) broadband in areas where no such infrastructure exists and where no private operator is willing to invest without state aid in the next three years. To further ensure that public investment does not crowd out private funding, detailed mapping and public consultation exercises will be carried out with interested private operators. Aid, meanwhile, will be awarded by way of tenders compliant with EU public procurement rules, respecting the principles of technological neutrality and also facilitating bids by smaller operators.
Commenting on the matter, European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said: ‘Today’s decision endorses UK plans to support the rollout of high speed broadband infrastructure – it aims to bring faster internet to UK consumers and businesses in line with EU state aid rules.’