Following extensive consultation with stakeholders and Member States, the Commission has adopted new Guidelines on the application of State aid rules in relation to the deployment of broadband networks, largely based on its original draft and existing jurisprudence. The Guidelines are designed to provide a clear and transparent framework for Member States and public authorities to ensure that they remain compliant with the EU’s State aid provisions and to encourage the deployment of broadband networks in underserved, often rural, areas.
The Guidelines are divided into two main sections; firstly the Commission’s policy on the development of traditional broadband networks, and secondly, public financing of very high speed “next generation access networks” or “NGAs”. The Guidelines distinguish between competitive “Black” areas, where no State aid can be justified, and underserved “White” and “Grey” areas where State aid may be justified provided certain safeguards are met. State intervention should only be implemented as a last resort and Member States are required to carefully consider whether State aid is the most appropriate solution in each case. Other safeguards have also been implemented, including a clawback mechanism for State aid if competition grows beyond anticipated levels in a certain area and requirements to use an open tender procedure, provide a detailed geographic analysis of the area, use existing infrastructure and allow third party access.
The Guidelines provide welcome clarity for commercial operators whose support is needed to invest substantial funds into the development of broadband networks. Where notification is required, the Guidelines will assist the Commission in its assessment, speed up the approval process, facilitate broadband roll-out and, in turn, help the EU to meet its economic targets.