EC opens fiber funding debate

The European Commission (EC) is switching its fixed broadband focus from ensuring basic access for all to funding of fiber rollouts.

It claims good progress has already been made to ensuring basic broadband access for all citizens, a goal of the EC's Digital Agenda, and that the time has come to work out how to boost deployment of high speed networks instead. The Commission has opened a three-month consultation on proposals for public funding of fiber rollouts, and aims to adopt definitive guidelines in December.

"State aid control should support the Digital Agenda targets while maintaining incentives for commercial investments," says Joaquín Almunia vice president of competition policy at the Commission.

The proposals are more about clarifying existing broadband regulations, drafted in 2009, than radical change. They cover public backing of 100-Mbps networks, transparency in government-backed deployments, and generating investment in passive infrastructure.

Almunia alluded to the potential financial benefits of high-speed networks, explaining. "We need a dynamic framework for the application of EU state aid rules in this strategic sector that fosters investments." Such a strategy may include easing restrictions on rural investment, EC information states.

Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes issued a rallying call to member states over funding high speed networks in April, stating investment is essential to maintain growth in Europe's web economy, which she claims is growing faster than China's national economy. She predicted 5% of regional GDP will come from the digital economy within a few years

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