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UK CLA and EU Call for Rural Broadband Action and NOT More Reports

Posted: 19th Sep, 2009 By: MarkJ
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has called on government to start taking real action to solve rural broadband problems, instead of churning out yet more reports. The news coincides with a new set of European Commission (EC) guidelines for state funding of related projects, which would allow the government to help fund improved services for rural residents where private companies have no plans to invest.

CLA President Henry Aubrey-Fletcher said:

"The CLA has lobbied vigorously to get the British Government to acknowledge it must invest public funds in a joint effort with the private sector to provide everyone with access to fast and affordable broadband, enabling them to play a full role in society.

We do not need any new reports. We know the problem, and we now know that there are some funds available. This, together with initiatives such as BT's Broadband Enabling Technology - which will bring broadband much further into rural areas - could at last show results."

Director CLA North Douglas Chalmers added:

“Yes, we are all worried about how little public money may be available for any project, but we should try and quantify the return that high speed broadband would bring – enabling businesses, reducing transport and other costs, encouraging enterprise and helping prevent social exclusion. It’s time to recognise that this is the modern day universal service need.”

However the EC guidelines (Download .PDF), which also contain specific provisions concerning the deployment of Next Generation Access (e.g. fibre optic FTTH broadband) networks, will still stick to the basic principles of EU competition/state aid law and as a result there are some restrictions.

Specifically, several crucial safeguards (such as detailed mapping, open tender, open access obligation or technological neutrality and claw-back mechanisms) are laid down in the Guidelines in order to promote competition and avoid the 'crowding out' of private investment.

The Guidelines specify that whenever state aid is granted to private operators, the aid must foster competition by requiring the beneficiary to prove open access to the publicly funded network for third party operators.

That could limit funding for specific technologies, such as Mobile Broadband or some Satellite solutions. Virgin Media would also be out of the running with its cable network, which is a closed platform.
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