State aid: Commission invites comments on State aid rules for the deployment of broadband networks
The European Commission recently (08 September 2020) launched a public consultation inviting Member States and other stakeholders to provide their views and comments on the existing EU State aid rules on public support for the deployment of broadband networks. The public consultation is part of an overall evaluation by the Commission of the relevant rules with a view to assess whether they are still fit purpose or whether they will need to be updated in light of recent technological and market developments. All interested parties can respond to the public consultation until 5 January 2021.
Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, recently said:
”Europe's digital transformation depends on high quality networks. These are crucial for connecting the regions in the European Union, and contribute to a more competitive and sustainable social market economy. The public consultation will help the Commission assess whether the existing State aid rules on public support for the deployment of broadband networks are still fit for purpose and are equipped to meet the challenges of Europe's digital future.”
The 2013 Broadband State aid Guidelines enable Member States to provide support for the deployment of broadband networks, subject to certain conditions. In particular, they allow for public investments where a market failure exists and where these investments bring a significant improvement to the market in terms of service availability, capacity, speeds and competition (step change). This ensures that public interventions focus on areas that would otherwise be left behind due to the absence of commercial interest to invest and that support “state of the art” technologies. At the same time, the Guidelines also aim at protecting private investments by providing that no public intervention can take place where private operators have invested or credibly plan to invest and fostering fair competition through competitive selection procedures, technological neutrality and open access requirements for the benefit of all European citizens and businesses.
Separately, the General Block Exemption Regulation (“GBER”) exempts Member States from having to notify aid measures supporting the deployment of broadband networks in areas where no infrastructure of the same category exists or is credibly planned in the near future, provided that certain conditions are met.
Since the adoption of the Broadband State Guidelines in 2013 and of the relevant GBER rules in 2014, broadband technologies have significantly improved and users' needs have increased, requiring larger bandwidth as well as an improvement of the networks in terms of other parameters such as latency, availability and reliability.
The purpose of the public consultation is to assess whether the Broadband State aid Guidelines and the relevant GBER provisions have met their objectives, what effect they have had on the market and on competition, and whether they need to be updated in light of recent technological and market developments and the new EU digital policy goals. In the consultation, the Commission aims at assessing the effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, relevance and EU added value of the existing rules, in line with the Better Regulation requirements.
All details about the public consultation are available online.
The consultation will be open until 5 January 2021.
The consultation is part of an overall evaluation by the Commission of the Broadband State aid Guidelines and the relevant provisions of the GBER, which will be carried out under the Commission's Better Regulation rules. In addition to the public consultation, the evaluation will involve internal analyses by the Commission as well as the conclusions of a study prepared by an external consultant. The Commission will summarise the results of the exercise in a Staff Working Document, which will be made public. The evaluation will provide the basis for a future Commission decision on whether an update of the current rules is necessary.
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