State aid for broadband projects has to follow the Guidelines adopted by the Commission in 2013.
The European Commission reviewed in 2014 the General Block Exemption Regulation, which simplifies aid granting procedures for Member States by authorising without prior notification a range of measures fulfilling horizontal common interest objectives, including broadband.
The Commission has also published guidance on when public spending falls within or outside the scope of EU State aid control.
Since 2016 transparency requirements about state aid measures have become mandatory.
It is important that public funds are carefully used in the broadband sector and that the Commission ensures that State aid is complementary and does not substitute investments of market players.
The Investment Plan for Europe (the so-called Juncker plan) was launched by the Commission in the wake of the global economic and financial crisis and the low levels of investment affecting the EU. The European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI) is the central pillar of the Investment Plan for Europe. Through EFSI, the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB), help overcome the investment gap in the EU by mobilising private financing for strategic investments, such as broadband infrastructures. After an initial three-year period (2015-2018) with a target of €315 billion, the so-called “EFSI 2.0” extends the lifetime of the fund from mid-2018 to end 2020 and increases its investment target to at least half a trillion euros.
The Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) is another key EU funding instrument established in 2013 to support projects in the sectors of transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructures. CEF Telecom has a budget of approximately 1 billion euros, out of which €870 million are dedicated to Digital Service Infrastructures delivering networked cross-border services for citizens, businesses and public administrations. The rest – is for broadband networks. The WiFi4EU initiative is part of the CEF Telecom work programme.
The CEF, the EFSI and the EIB will make contributions to a new fund, the Connecting Europe Broadband Fund (CEBF), to be launched in June 2018 by the Commission and the EIB. The fund manager for the CEBF (Cube Infrastructure Partners) will be in charge of identifying eligible broadband projects. The Fund is expected to invest in greenfield projects concerning high speed broadband deployment in underserved areas. The investments made by the fund will generally be lower than €30 million each and represent a minority stake in a given project.