The European Commission has approved public support totalling €2.6bn for the Irish National Broadband Plan under state aid rules.
Ireland’s National Broadband Plan, which aims to achieve 100% high speed broadband coverage across the Republic of Ireland, is designed to redress deficits in connectivity and boost access to high quality broadband provision. The plan will target Irish regions which do not currently have download speeds of at least 30Mbps and where private investors have not expressed the intention to develop broadband availability, with target areas determined through extensive public consultations.
Broadband operators will be offered wholesale access to the areas of the network targeted by the Irish National Broadband Plan, with the aim of stimulating private investment in high speed internet provision. The scheme adheres to the EU’s strategic goals, as outlined in the bloc’s Digital Agenda for Europe and the European Commission’s 2016 communication ‘Towards a European gigabit society’.
The Commission has examined the Irish broadband proposal under the terms of EU state aid regulation with particular reference to its 2013 guidelines on state aid for broadband provision, which state: ‘The purpose of state aid control in the broadband sector is to ensure that state aid measures will result in a higher level, or a faster rate, of broadband coverage and penetration than would be the case without state aid, while supporting higher quality, more affordable services and pro-competitive investments.’ It found that, while in the abstract the scheme could potentially distort competition to some degree, this concern was vastly outweighed by the benefits the plan would offer the public.
Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said: “The National Broadband Plan in Ireland is expected to address the significant digital divide between urban and rural areas in Ireland, enabling Irish consumers and businesses to benefit from the full potential of digital growth. This will help households and businesses in areas of Ireland where private investment is insufficient.”