State Aid: Commission invites comments on proposed revision of EU State aid rules for deployment of broadband networks

The European Commission has today launched a targeted public consultation inviting all interested parties to comment on a proposed revision of the Guidelines on State aid rules for broadband networks (the ‘Broadband Guidelines’). Interested parties can respond to the consultation until 11 February 2022.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “We now invite all interested parties to share their views on our proposed targeted changes to the Broadband Guidelines. We want to make it easier for Member States to foster the deployment of broadband networks including Gigabit and 5G networks. But also to limit the competition distortions when the market does not deliver.”

The Broadband Guidelines aim at facilitating the deployment and take-up of broadband networks in areas suffering from insufficient connectivity services, such as remote and sparsely populated regions of the EU. They enable Member States, subject to certain conditions, to support modern infrastructures capable of providing end-users with high quality and affordable connectivity services and reduce the digital divide where commercial operators have no incentive to invest. At the same time, the Guidelines also aim at protecting private investments by providing that no public intervention can take place where private operators invest and at fostering fair competition through competitive selection procedures, technological neutrality and open access requirements.

The Commission has conducted an evaluation of the current Broadband Guidelines. The evaluation revealed that the current Guidelines work well, are broadly fit for purpose and have made an important contribution to the deployment of broadband networks. At the same time, the evaluation showed that some targeted adjustments of the existing rules are necessary to reflect the latest market and technological developments and fast evolving connectivity needs as reflected in the current EU priorities.

In this context, the Commission is proposing a number of targeted changes. More specifically, the proposed revision consists of:

Introducing new speed thresholds for public support to Gigabit fixed networks and new guidance on support for the deployment of mobile networks. This aims at: (i) reflecting the increasing connectivity needs of end-users; and (ii) clarifying the conditions under which support may be granted, in particular with respect to the existence of a market failure and to the performance that the networks must achieve.
Introducing a new category of possible aid in the form of demand-side measures supporting the take-up of fixed and mobile networks (vouchers). The purpose is to ensure legal certainty, by clarifying the compatibility conditions that the Commission applies in relation to these measures, based on recent case practice.
Further clarifying certain concepts, which are important for the State aid assessment carried out by the Commission such as, among others, mapping, public consultations that need to be carried out before granting the aid, competitive selection procedure, wholesale access obligations, and extension of the subsidised networks with private funds.

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