European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes has expressed her disappointment that funding for digital projects across the EU was cut by €8.2 billion (£7b), to just €1 billion – which means there is nothing left for broadband.
The money will now be reserved for digital services, since, according to Kroes, “such a smaller sum does not leave room for investing in broadband networks”.
The decrease in EU infrastructure budget had been suggested by none other than Prime Minister David Cameron, who proposed cuts of €34 billion in order to have UK pay less into the coffers of Brussels.
Internet campaigners have noted that the European parliament could still vote to block the changes at a meeting which is expected to take place by April.
BT said that the cuts will not have much impact on the UK infrastructure, since the Broadband Delivery fund used to connect rural areas is supported by the UK government, not European funds.
Back in September 2010, the European Commission adopted a package of measures as part of its Digital Agenda, designed to give every European access to basic broadband by 2013.
It was thought that the newly-established Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) would use its €50 billion fund to finance infrastructure projects “where additional EU investment can have the most impact”. And in order to achieve the 2020 target, €9.2 billion was set aside specifically for broadband in rural areas, where private companies might be reluctant to invest.
However, after the recent changes in budget, investment into European infrastructure over the next seven years was reduced by more than half, and it seems that transport and energy networks have been prioritised over the data networks. The funding for digital projects has been cut from €9.2 billion to just €1 billion, and the future of CEF is unclear.
“This would mean it’s up to member states or the private sector to put up the funding,” Charles Trotman, a spokesman for the Country Land and Business Association, told The Guardian. “It’s highly unlikely that certain member states would be able to. Just a billion Euros isn’t going to be enough.”
BT, which won the majority of contracts that use the British government’s BDUK money, said that it never planned to use the CEF funding, and the cuts are unlikely to have an impact on the roll-out of broadband in the UK.
Despite the cuts, Neelie Kroes has promised to “keep fighting” in order to reach the ambitious 2020 targets. In a post on her blog, the European Commissioner reminded that there are other ways to get European funding besides applying to the CEF.
“They [member states] must support all the other initiatives we have taken or will be taking to facilitate broadband investment across Europe. I will also continue to work closely with the European Investment Bank to ensure their active involvement in lending for broadband projects,” wrote Kroes.
She has also assured that the CEF will make the remaining €1 billion of funding count: “This still leaves room to invest in service infrastructure, in fields like eProcurement and eInvoicing, that can support a digital single market and ensure top-quality, 21st century public services for Europeans.”
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