The European Commission has approved an update to its Broadband Guidelines on state aid. The changes are expected to make it easier for EU governments to provide financial support for the expansion of gigabit broadband networks to unserved areas. 

The guidelines outline how states can support network expansion without harming competition. The new rules update the Commission’s previous communication from 2013, taking into account the EU’s new goals of gigabit broadband and 5G access for all by 2030.

The public support is expected to target areas without access to speeds of at least 1 Gbps download and 150 Mbps upload. Any state investment should at least triple the available download speeds, according to the new guidelines. In areas where at least two competing networks are already available, any public investment should deliver a minimum 1 Gbps. 

Other changes in the guidelines include opening up public support to fibre backhaul networks where unavailable and for improving 5G coverage in areas not served by private operators or falling under licence obligations. The new rules also simplify the process of providing direct support to end-users, such as subscription and hardware subsidies. In addition, public authorities will have more flexibility in the type of wholesale access required on publicly supported networks, including physical or virtual unbundling, and different options for setting wholesale prices. 

The new Broadband Guidelines will enter into force on the day following their publication in the Official Journal of the European Union, which is expected in January. From then on, the Commission will rely on the new guidelines when it assesses aid schemes, both those with prior notification to the Commission and other public schemes.

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