New EU rules to allow state funding of broadband in cities

EU guidelines on broadband public funding emphasize technological neutrality

New European rules will allow national authorities to fund broadband networks in cities.

To date, European Union state aid guidelines in the broadband sector have aimed at getting last-mile access to rural communities. But a new set of guidelines published on Wednesday will allow public funding in urban areas for ultra-fast broadband networks of more than 100 Mbps.

Such funding will be subject to very strict conditions to ensure a pro-competitive outcome, and be technologically neutral. This means that state funding can go not only to fiber networks, but any platform that facilitates fast broadband access.

The Commission says that publicly financed infrastructure, using taxpayers money, can only be justified if it provides a substantial improvement over existing networks and not only a marginal improvement in citizens' connectivity.

As set out in its Digital Agenda, the E.U. authority wants basic broadband for all Europeans by 2013, Internet speeds of above 30 Mbps for all by 2020 and connections above 100 Mbps for 50 percent of European households also by 2020.

State aid rules on broadband have been in place since 2009, but this revision follows a consultation with member states, national telecoms regulators, aid granting authorities, telecommunications operators and others.

The guidelines will be formally adopted following publication in the Official Journal of the E.U. in January 2013.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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