State backing for broadband quadruples

Last year the European Commission approved 20 state aid packages for broadband, authorising more than €1.8 billion in subsidies for the development of these networks, four times as much as in 2009, says Europolitics, a Brussels daily news report. The figure is unveiled in a study published by the Commission on January 20th on state support for broadband networks.

The Commission explained that it approved the broadband aid in order to stay on track with the ambitious Digital Agenda goals set in the ‘Europe 2020′ strategy and to support economic recovery and the Union’s competitiveness. The public financing aims to ensure that all EU citizens, including those in rural and remote areas, have access to high-speed Internet.

The EU funds could generate up to €3.5 billion in investments in the sector. One of the objectives set for 2020 by the EU’ strategy is access to Internet at a speed of at least 30 Mbps for all Europeans, with connections of over 100 Mbps for half of all households.

Currently, only 1 per cent of Europeans have a high-speed optical fibre connection. Europolitics quotes the EU executive reiterating that these targets can only be achieved if private investments are supplemented with EU and national financing, with the aim of extending present-generation high-speed and ultra-fast networks to areas where economic operators are unlikely to invest on commercial terms in the near future. The national aid packages approved were found to be in line with the September 2009 broadband guidelines, which take account of the need for public support to ensure universal coverage by high-speed infrastructures with a view to preventing a digital divide between urban and rural zones.

The Commission plans to continue to encourage smart use of public funds, in line with the guidelines, to make fast and ultra-fast Internet available to as many Europeans as possible and as soon as possible, so that they can benefit from the advantages of the knowledge-based society. The Commission adds that, on top of national funding, €2.3 billion was allocated to broadband infrastructure and €12.9 billion to information society services during the 2007-2013 EU Structural Fund programming period. Under the Rural Development Fund, a further €360 million was used for broadband funding. The European Investment Bank invested €2.3 billion in broadband infrastructures in 2009 (€12 billion since 2000).

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