EU Confirms Plans For Huge Broadband Investment


The European Commission has confirmed plans to pump billions into broadband projects across the region

The European Commission has confirmed to eWEEK Europe that it planning to invest billions to roll out high-speed broadband across the European Union

Back in September 2010, the European Commission adopted a package of measures as part of its Digital Agenda, which is designed to give every European access to basic broadband by 2013, and fast and ultra-fast broadband (30Mbps or above) by 2020.

By that date it also hopes that at least 50 percent of households in the EU will have speeds above 100Mbps.

EC Confirmation

And now the EC has confirmed plans to invest €9.2 billion (£8bn) across Europe, to ensure that these 2020 goals can actually be met.

The EC confirmed in an emailed statement to eWEEK Europe that it will propose the funding this Wednesday. The money will be invested between 2014 and 2020, however the plan has to be officially approved by the European Parliament and the EU’s Council of Ministers.

“The European Commission has proposed to spend almost €9.2 billion from 2014 to 2020 on pan-European projects to give EU citizens and businesses access to high-speed broadband networks and the services that run on them,” said the EC.

It added that the funding would take the form of both equity and debt instruments and grants. The EC also said that it would complement private investment and public money at local, regional and national level and through EU structural or cohesion funds.

Furthermore, the EC said that at least €7 billion (£6.1bn) would be invested in high-speed broadband infrastructure.

Encouraging Investment

The Commission also announced that, according to its “conservative estimates”, this investment will encourage the private sector as well as local and national governments, to cough up at least €50 billion (£43.6bn) to help in the rollout.

This, said the EC, is a substantial proportion of the estimated €270 billion (£235bn) of broadband investment needed to meet Digital Agenda targets on broadband.

The EC thinks the funding will encourage existing telecom operators, as well as new players including utility companies (water, electricity, sewage) to get involved in the rollout of high-speed broadband projects in their area.

“Many projects are likely to involve several of these investors clubbing together,” it said. “The Commission also expects public authorities to join projects as part of public-private partnerships. The aim is to support investment in less obviously attractive broadband infrastructure projects, especially those outside urban or densely populated areas.”

Rural Broadband

This last point refers to the vexing issue of rural broadband, where operators tend to invest less because rural rollouts are not as economically attractive as urban-based deployments.

“Access to CEF finance would speed up investment,” said the EC. “It would also exert competitive pressure on telecommunications network companies to invest in their own networks.”

The money would be used to provide financing for technical assistance or horizontal support such as mapping existing and future broadband networks.

The Commission’s proposals will now be submitted to the European Parliament and the EU’s Council of Ministers for adoption.

Previous Funding

Of course, European funding has already been used to help fund the deployment of fibre in the UK.

Last September, for example, it was announced that Cornwall would receive one of the UK’s largest rural fibre optic roll-outs, after BT confirmed it would roll out super-fast broadband to up to 90 percent of homes in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The financial burden of that project, which is costing £132 million, is being shared between BT and the European Regional Development Fund.

Meanwhile the UK government has, in comparison to the EC funding, set aside a paltry £530 million in funding for fibre investment, which is expected to be spent by 2015. A further £300 million of government money should be available between 2015 and 2017.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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