EC Wants Digital Europe Not Just Digital Britain

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The UK may have come up with its own levy for broadband roll-out but the EC wants Europe-wide agreement on the issue

Alongside the UK’s own plans for funding broadband spelled out in the Digital Britain report, the EC is pushing for pan-European agreements on how to fund high-speed broadband networks across the entire region.

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The EC released a statement late last week adding some meat to the bones of earlier calls for a Europe-wide plan for how to fund next generation networks. The European authority has released a public consultation on plans for what it calls Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband networks. The consultation takes the form of a draft Commission Recommendation which stakeholders can comment on until 24 July 2009.

“For consumers and businesses to be able to reap the benefits of competitive very high speed broadband services, we need a common pan-European regulatory approach to NGA broadband networks,” EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said. “This consultation will help to ensure that the Commission Recommendation gives the necessary legal certainty to encourage large scale investment in new fibre infrastructure for very fast broadband internet services while safeguarding effective access to NGA networks for competitors.”

EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding (pictured) also commented on the plan, adding that large amounts of private and public money will need to be invested in next-generation networks in the coming years. “Investors therefore need to know the rules of the game. The aim of the planned Commission Recommendation on next generation access is to provide legal certainty for all players by providing national regulators across Europe with clear guidance on the regulatory approach to be taken.

Reding added that achieving the necessary levels of investment in high-speed broadband would require a balance between public funding and private sector cash. “I call on all stakeholders to contribute actively to the new public consultation in order to help us achieve the right balance between effective competition in the broadband market and giving the right incentives for sustainable investment in Europe’s high speed networks,” she said.

On Tuesday as part of the Digital Britain report, the government introduced a 50p-a-month tax on phone lines, to create a Next Generation Fund to pay for faster broadband across Britain.

The Next Generation Fund will be administered by telecoms regulator Ofcom, and is expected to gather between £150 million to £175 million each year, from a “small levy” of around 50p a month on each copper phone line, according to culture secretary Ben Bradshaw, who took the post from Andy Burnham in Gordon Brown’s recent reshuffle of government posts.

But in a statement released in May, the EC said it wanted to provide clear guidance for member states on how best to fund the roll-out of high speed broadband without compromising private sector network operators such as the UK’s BT.

The UK government, for instance, will have to ensure that Alastair Darling’s plan to use left-over digital TV money to pay for universal broadband is within the rules as well as the £6 levy announced as part of the Digital Britain report on Tuesday.

The EC has promised to provide comment on the Digital Britain funding plan but did not reply in time for this article.

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