EU Commission approves €2.6bn state aid for National Broadband Plan

15 Nov 2019

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The EU Commission has given the National Broadband Plan the green light, meaning that contract signing is likely imminent.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager has said that Ireland’s National Broadband Plan will “address the significant digital divide between urban and rural areas in Ireland”, in a statement confirming that support for the plan has been approved by the EU Commission under state aid rules.

“This will help households and businesses in areas of Ireland where private investment is insufficient,” Vestager continued.

With this decision, it will now be possible for the Irish State to proceed with plans to sign a contract with the preferred bidder, National Broadband Ireland.

‘Positive effects on competition’

The statement indicates that the plan has a budget of €2.6bn and was assessed under state aid rules, in particular the 2013 Broadband Guidelines.

“The Commission concluded that the scheme’s positive effects on competition in the Irish broadband market outweigh potential negative effects brought about by the public intervention. On this basis, [we] approved the measure under EU State aid rules,” the statement continued.

The Commission noted that one of the reasons this intervention is necessary is because “no private investor has demonstrated a concrete plan to invest commercially in the near future” in the target areas, which includes regions where no broadband infrastructure offering download speeds of at least 30Mbps is currently in place.

The new network aims to support download speeds of at least 150Mbps and upload speeds of at least 30Mbps.

“The subsidised network will offer wholesale access to all operators on an open, transparent and non-discriminatory basis, and will therefore incentivise private investments in the provision of high-speed internet services to households and businesses in the target areas,” the Commission added.

‘We will make sure that rural Ireland is not left behind’

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton praised the development, adding that the proposed plan will deliver high-speed broadband to “almost one-quarter of our country”.

The target area includes, according to the Irish Government, 44,000 businesses, 695 schools and almost 55,000 farms.

“Without high speed broadband, it will be significantly more difficult to attract new jobs to rural areas and develop new enterprise opportunities, and it will be more difficult to retain the jobs that currently exist in these areas,” Bruton continued.

“High-speed broadband will allow remote working, which can ease congestion and reduce emissions. It will ensure that the digital revolution happening in education, healthcare, farming and tourism does not bypass rural Ireland. We will make sure that rural Ireland is not left behind.”

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic