European Commission invites bids for slice of huge superfast broadband pie

The European Commission has launched a Connected Communities initiative and urged EU broadband providers to claim for funding

The European Commission (EC) has launched an umbrella initiative called Connected Communities to give communities, broadband stakeholder groups and operators access to advice, finance and development tools for deploying superfast broadband.

The bidding process will run until 15 October 2014, and over the next few months any party working locally, regionally or even nationally will be able to submit concepts and plans for superfast broadband projects to the European Commission, with the best receiving access to in-depth support.

Support available through the scheme will include:

  • individual feedback, offering initial assessment of broadband plans to determine what support is to be offered
  • development of business models and advice on how to achieve the scale needed for private or public financing, with assistance from the World Bank
  • tailored project financing from the European Investment Bank, funded by seed money from the EC
  • access to a slice of the €453bn pot of European structural and investment funds, which has made access to, quality and use of ICT a major priority between now and 2020
  • easier access to state aid from EU national governments under new rules defined by the EC to assist in granting state aid for broadband

The Connected Communities scheme is designed to help Brussels meet its Digital Agenda targets. The aim is to make 30Mbps broadband available to every household in the EU, and to have 50% of households subscribing to 100Mbps or above by 2020.

With just over five years to go, investment in broadband networks is falling short, said the EC, with 36% of EU households unable to attain speeds of 30Mbps, and only 3% with connections over 100Mbps.

Across the EU, deployment is particularly slow in semi-urban and rural locales as well as economically deprived areas. The problem has recently been highlighted by UK regulator Ofcom, which found that deprived urban areas were less likely than richer areas to have superfast services.

European Commission VP Neelie Kroes said: “If you’re a local authority, a region, or a committed broadband activist, we are here to help you.

“We want to connect you to practical support and finance to help you achieve your vision for your community.”

The EC highlighted a number of best practice case studies, including Dutch provider Reggefiber, which has already taken a tranche of EIB and commercial bank funding to deploy FTTP solutions, and French outfit Iliad, which has signed a €200m financing deal with EIB to fund FTTP roll-out.

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