State aid: Commission seeks comments on proposed review of EU rules on state aid for the deployment of broadband networks

DATE November 21, 2021

State aid: Commission seeks comments on proposed review of EU rules on state aid for the deployment of broadband networks

Brussels, November 19, 2021

The European Commission has today opened a specific public consultation inviting all interested parties to submit their comments on the proposed revision of the Guidelines on State aid rules for broadband networks (the "Broadband Guidelines"). Interested parties can respond to this consultation until February 11, 2022.

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, responsible for competition policy, has declared: «We now invite all interested parties to provide us with feedback on the specific changes we propose to make to the Broadband Guidelines. "We want to make it easier for Member States to promote the deployment of broadband networks, including gigabit and 5G networks, but also limit any distortions of competition where the market is not fulfilling its function."

The Broadband Guidelines They aim to facilitate the deployment and implementation of broadband networks in areas where connectivity services are insufficient, such as isolated and sparsely populated regions of the EU. Under certain conditions, they allow Member States to facilitate the installation of modern infrastructure capable of providing end-users with affordable and high-quality connectivity services and reducing the digital divide where commercial operators do not have incentives to invest. At the same time, the Guidelines aim to protect private investments, establishing the impossibility of public intervention where private operators invest, and to encourage fair competition through competitive selection procedures, technological neutrality and open access requirements.

The Commission has carried out a assessment of the current Broadband Guidelines. This exercise has shown that the current Guidelines work well, are broadly fit for purpose and have contributed significantly to the deployment of broadband networks. On the other hand, the assessment has revealed the need to introduce some specific adjustments to the current standards to reflect the latest technological advances and recent market developments, as well as the rapid changes in connectivity needs, as highlighted by current priorities. of the EU.

Given these circumstances, the Commission proposes a series of specific changes. Specifically, the proposed revision consists of:

  • Introduce new speed thresholds for public support for gigabit fixed networks and new guidelines on supporting the rollout of mobile networks. The objective is: i) to reflect the increasing connectivity needs of end users, and ii) clarify the conditions under which aid can be granted, in particular as regards the existence of a market failure and the services that networks must offer.
  • Introduce a new category of possible aid in the form of measures that affect demand and favor the implementation of fixed and mobile networks (vouchers). The purpose of this provision is to ensure legal certainty by clarifying the compatibility conditions that the Commission applies in relation to these measures on the basis of recent practice.
  • Clarify certain concepts further important for the Commission's assessment of state aid, such as geographical coverage, public consultations to be carried out before aid is granted, the competitive selection procedure, wholesale access obligations and expansion of networks subsidized with private funds.

Draft Broadband Guidelines and details of public consultation available online.

Next steps

Alongside the consultation opened today, a debate on the proposed text of the Broadband Guidelines will take place at a meeting between the Commission and Member States towards the end of the consultation period. This process will ensure that Member States and other interested parties have sufficient opportunities to submit their comments on the Commission's draft proposal.

Adoption of the new Broadband Guidelines is planned for mid-2022.


The 2013 Guidelines on State Aid for Broadband Deployment, currently in force, allow public investments when there is a market failure and when such investments provide a significant improvement ("significant change"). Other parameters are also applied whose purpose is to protect competition and incentives for private investment.

The provisions of the Broadband Guidelines are complemented by the General Block Exemption Regulations (RGEC), which establishes a series of compatibility conditions ex ante compliance with which allows Member States to apply state aid measures without prior notification to the Commission.

Between 2014 and 2019, Member States dedicated approximately €30 billion of public funds, in line with EU state aid rules, to close the investment gap for the deployment of broadband infrastructure and achieve the targets set for 2020 in the Digital Agenda for Europe.

According to him Digital Economy and Society Index, in mid-2020, 87.2 % of European households already had access to fast broadband with a download speed of at least 30 megabits per second (Mbps), and 59.3 % of them were connected to capable networks. to support gigabit speeds. At the end of June 2020, almost all EU households (99.6 %) were covered by 4G LTE mobile networks and 13.9 % of them were covered by 5G networks.

In its Communication on the Gigabit society, the Commission determined the connectivity needs that must be met by 2025 to build a European gigabit society, namely: i) all European homes must have internet connectivity with a download speed of at least 100 Mbps, upgradable to 1Gbps; ii) socioeconomic drivers, such as schools, hospitals and public administrations, as well as high digital intensity companies, must have gigabit connectivity (1 Gbps upload and download); iii) all urban areas and all major land transport routes must be covered by an uninterrupted 5G network.

In February 2020, the Commission published the EU's digital priorities, of which the Communication entitled "Shaping Europe's digital future», and recalled that the most essential pillar of Europe's digital transformation continues to be connectivity that allows achieving the objectives of the Europe 2025 Strategy.

In accordance with the provisions of the Communication on the «Digital Compass», by 2030 all homes in the Union must be covered by a gigabit network and all populated areas must have 5G coverage. As highlighted by the proposal of policy program for the Digital Decade, society's bandwidth upload and download needs are constantly increasing. According to this proposal, by 2030, networks with gigabit speeds should be available, in affordable conditions, to all those who need or want to have that capacity.

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