Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "The broadband scheme will bring faster internet to Italian consumers and businesses. It will help Italy to build the necessary infrastructure and contribute to creating a connected Digital Single Market in the EU. Thanks to good cooperation with Italy, we have been able to finalise the assessment of the scheme very swiftly".
In line with the objectives of the Digital Single Market, the Italian National Ultra-Broadband Scheme aims to increase the coverage of high speed broadband. This will contribute to Italy's objective of providing 85% of households and all public buildings (in particular schools and hospitals) with access to data transfer speeds of at least 100 megabits per second (mbps). The scheme will run until 31 December 2022. The Italian state will fully finance the new infrastructure, which will remain in public ownership, and a concessionaire will be selected to operate the network.
The Commission assessed the measure under EU state aid rules, in particular its 2013 Broadband Guidelines. These aim to ensure, amongst other things, that public funding does not take the place of private investment. They also ensure that other service providers can use the publicly funded infrastructure on a non-discriminatory basis. This protects effective competition, which is a key driver for investment and better prices and quality for consumers and businesses.
The Commission found that the Italian scheme will:
- Spend public money on underserved areas without crowding out private investment. Support will be granted only in areas where currently no Next Generation Access network exists, i.e. networks that can ensure speeds above 30 mbps, or is due to be deployed in the next three years (so-called "white" areas). To identify these areas, Italy has carried out detailed mapping and a public consultation.
- Encourage the use of existing infrastructure by setting up a data base containing relevant information not limited to telecommunication infrastructure. This way Italy expects to minimise the use of state funds by encouraging bidders to use existing networks to the maximum extent possible.
- Foster competition among operators and at retail level. This aims to ensure that the newly built infrastructure is open to all interested operators for the benefit of competition and consumers. Italy agreed to create neutral interconnection points rather than simply connecting the new access network to the existing infrastructure of the incumbent. This should allow all operators to reach the newly built access infrastructure on an equal footing.
- Grant state aid by way of open tenders in line with EU and Italian public procurement rules and in compliance with the principle of technological neutrality. In other words, support will not be earmarked for a particular technology but calls for tenders will set out qualitative criteria in view of the characteristics of the project.
On this basis, the Commission concluded that the scheme will bring fast internet access to areas where it is currently not available, without unduly distorting competition.
The scheme is also accompanied by a detailed evaluation plan, the results of which will be submitted to the Commission by June 2022.
In December 2012, the Commission approved an earlier Italian scheme, the Digital Plan super-fast Broadband, worth €2.5 billion.
As part of its Digital Single Market strategy, the Commission aims to encourage broadband rollout, especially in underserved areas, to ensure a high level of connectivity in the EU. Italy lags behind most of the other Member States in fast broadband (at least 30Mbps) coverage with only 44% of households covered (see Digital Economy and Society Index). According to the public consultation carried out by Italy in 2015, 26% of households would be unable to connect to a network with data transfer speeds above 30 Mbps in 2018 in the absence of public intervention.
The Commission will present an update of EU telecoms rules in the autumn. It should incentivise and leverage more private investment, provide regulatory predictability and the right conditions for all operators to invest. It will also focus on a better coordination of spectrum and the next 5G mobile communications. In order to prepare the upcoming reform of the EU telecoms framework, the proposal on radio frequencies presented by the Commission in February (press release) should be adopted as soon as possible by the European Parliament and the Council.
The 2013 Broadband Guidelines, which entered into force on 26 January 2013, offer stability and legal certainty for broadband investment. In particular, they reconcile the aims of, on the one hand, encouraging the rapid roll-out of broadband infrastructure with public funds and, on the other hand, minimising the risk of crowding out private investment and creating monopolies. They therefore complement other existing EU and Member States policies in this regard.
The non-confidential version of the current decision will be made available under the case number SA.41647 in 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.