European Commission Relaxes Broadband Guidelines To Spur Ultrafast Spread

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

UK ultrafast broadband projects might be getting a boost thanks to fresh guidelines coming from Brussels

The European Commission has updated Broadband Guidelines for member states to follow, as it looks to get more super and ultrafast connections up and running across the continent.

The EC said the new guidelines offer “a reinforcement of open access obligations and improved transparency rules”. The guidelines, which are set to be adopted in January 2013, offer governments advice on how to progress with broadband projects, looking at competition issues and quality of service.

In the UK, the Broadband Development UK (BDUK) initiative, which has pushed £530 million into getting fibre out to rural areas, was scrutinised by the European Commission over competition issues. To date, BT has won all BDUK-backed contracts, and it appears it will be a one-horse race.

broadband network fibreUltrafast broadband spreading

But the EC gave the go-ahead in November, despite concerns from other industry players that state aid was being piled into BT coffers.

The EC is getting nervous about reaching its targets and is now loosening a number of rules to ensure countries can get up to speed. In the guidelines announced today, the Commission said that in light of the aim to achieve 50 percent penetration of internet connections above 100Mbps, governments could intervene directly and provide the necessary infrastructure, as long as certain competition requirements were met.

This should provide a boost to the UK’s own ultrafast plans, and could ease any concerns that EU scrutiny might cause delay to the process, as happened with the BDUK initiative.

The government has announced funding for 22 ultrafast cities, pouring £150 million into the project so far. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed 12 of the ultrafast destinations earlier this month, which including Brighton, Cambridge and Oxford.

As announced earlier in the year, London, Birmingham and others are set to be covered in ultrafast fibre.

Britain’s definition of ultrafast broadband speed seems to be below what the EC expects, however. The UK’s ultrafast cities will hit at least 80Mbps, not 100Mbps.

The fresh guidelines also include rules on “technological neutrality”. “Bidders should be entitled to propose the provision of the required broadband services using or combining whatever technology they deem most suitable,” the EC document read.

“On the basis of the objective tender criteria, the granting authority is then entitled to select the most suitable technological solution or mix of technology solutions. In principle, universal coverage of larger target areas can be reached with a mix of technologies.”

The Commission said governments could only finance infrastructure directly if it can provide “a substantial improvement over existing networks and not only a marginal improvement in citizens’ connectivity”.

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