European Commission - Press release
State aid: Commission clears French support scheme for ultra fast broadband networks
Brussels, 19 October 2011 - The European Commission has approved under EU state aid rules around €750 million of support for the deployment of very high speed broadband networks in France. Consumers and businesses will benefit from speeds of 100 megabits per second for the use of enhanced internet services such as e-health, e-government, 3 D television, teleworking possibilities, e-learning and more. The scheme will further bridge the digital divide between rural and urban areas. The Commission concluded that the scheme is in line with the EU guidelines on state aid for broadband, in particular because aid will be given through public tenders only for areas where no comparable networks currently exist and because the subsidized network will be open to all interested users.
Commission Vice-President Joaquín Almunia, in charge of competition policy, said: "France's broadband support scheme meets the Commission's Digital Agenda objectives of bringing very high speed broadband to all European citizens quickly. France took all necessary precautions to keep competition distortions limited and to support networks which are open to all users on a non-discriminatory basis. This will stimulate competition between network infrastructures and services."
In 2010, the French Government notified to the Commission for approval nation-wide support measures for the construction of very high speed broadband networks (so-called next generation access networks, NGA) in the framework of its programme "Très Haut Débit". Networks will be mainly fibre based and provide speeds of 100 MBit/s directly to the end consumer. The framework ensures that support will be granted only in areas in which no commercial NGA network rollout is foreseen in the near future, to avoid the crowding out of private investments. By conducting regional tenders for the support, the scheme ensures that operators compete for the state aid and that aid is limited to the amount necessary. Access to the subsidised infrastructure will be open and non-discriminatory at adequate access prices and under the control of the national regulator ARCEP.
Today's decision further clarifies the conditions under which public authorities are able to manage non-profit network infrastructures in line with EU state aid rules.
The Europe 2020 Strategy underlines the importance of broadband deployment to promote social inclusion and competitiveness in the EU. The Commission has ambitious targets for broadband development in its Digital Agenda (see DAE webpage, IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199, MEMO/10/200), which seeks to ensure that, by 2020, (i) all Europeans have access to internet speeds of above 30 Mbps and (ii) 50% or more of European households subscribe to internet connections above 100 Mbps.
These targets can only be reached if EU and public funds complement private investments to extend current generation broadband and very high speed broadband coverage to areas where market operators are unlikely to invest on commercial terms in the near future. Adequate and affordable broadband services can bring great economic and social benefits for people living and working in such areas. Public support is often also needed to ensure a universal coverage of broadband infrastructures and so avoiding a digital divide between urban and rural or remote areas.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.31316 the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.