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European Commission Stalls UK Superfast Broadband Rollout Plans

Wednesday, Jul 4th, 2012 (9:19 am) - Score 1,172

The government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) plan to roll-out superfast broadband (24Mbps+) services to 90% of the UK by 2015, which after spending £3m on consultants has left itself with a choice of just two firms (BT or Fujitsu), appears to have stalled after the European Commission (EC) expressed concern over the allocation of state aid.

Technically this is nothing new to ISPreview.co.uk readers, we’ve been reporting on it for the past few weeks, although The Guardian now appears to have gained some confirmation. It’s widely known that BDUK’s framework set the bar too high for smaller ISPs (altnets) to get involved. At the same time other operators, such as Cable & Wireless and Geo Networks (GEO), eventually pulled out highlighting economic and competitive concerns (here).

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Crucially the EC recently launched a new consultation on EU state aid rules for the public funding of broadband networks, which switched its focus more towards facilitating the roll-out of “ultra-fast” networks (100Mbps+) “under certain conditions” (here).

It’s understood that Europe wants BT to offer improved and more competitive access to its superfast fibre-based infrastructure, such as the ability to rent Dark Fibre (ofcom has just rejected that idea), offer cheaper access to their cable ducts (PIA) and or a better unbundling (LLU) equivalent than VULA for fibre based lines.

A BTGroup Spokesperson said:

Discussions between the UK government and the commission continue on the issue of state aid. This is an EU issue as the commission is developing rules that need to work across Europe as well as taking the different conditions in the UK into consideration.

We are working with the UK authorities for an outcome that both incentivises further investment in fibre broadband and delivers vibrant competition in broadband services.

We believe there needs to be consistency with the wider regulatory framework which has given the UK the most competitive broadband environment in the world.”

Another issue, which may or may not sway into Europe’s decision making process, is that of speed. BDUK initially envisaged superfast broadband as being able to deliver download speeds of greater than 24Mbps (Megabits) but the EC wants this to be brought into line with their Digital Agenda target of 30Mbps for 2020. The UK has already started to make that change but this has naturally caused some confusion (here).

But at the same time the EC are clearly still assessing each of the UK’s Local Broadband Plan’s (LBP) on merit, otherwise they wouldn’t have cleared Birmingham’s proposal in June 2012 (here). Birmingham impressed by promising open access for alternative operators and the ability to rent Dark Fibre lines. Few, if any, other projects have been able to make such a promise.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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