The European Union has given the green light to the UK Government’s plans to introduce high-speed broadband to homes and businesses across the UK.
The decision follows a direct intervention from the Culture Secretary in Brussels last week, after several months of delay in Europe.
The approval paves the way for the UK’s £530 million rural broadband scheme to start in earnest, meaning that work can commence laying the cables for local authority broadband projects all around the UK.
The programme is part of the Government’s commitment to deliver the best superfast broadband network in Europe.
“Finally getting the green light from Brussels will mean a huge boost for the British economy,” said Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Maria Miller.
“Superfast broadband is essential to creating growth, jobs and prosperity and the delay has caused frustration within Government. Today’s announcement means that we can crack on with delivering broadband plans, boosting growth and jobs around the country.
“Britain is in a global race today,” Miller added. “To succeed in that race we must have the infrastructure to match our aspiration, providing people who work hard with the tools they need to get on and prosper; this green light will benefit both businesses and communities across the UK.
“Our broadband plans are hugely ambitious – to connect 90 per cent of homes to superfast broadband and ensuring the rest have access to at least 2Mbps. The Government will not allow parts of our country to miss out on the digital age.”
State aid approval means that local authorities can now sign procurement contracts with contractors and begin delivery work on their new broadband infrastructure projects.
Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) has planned a ‘pipeline’ of local authority projects which are currently going into procurement at a rate of approximately one a week.
The projects which will be affected first by this clearance, and whose residents will be the first to connect to superfast broadband, are Wales and Surrey.
Projects in Cumbria, Rutland and Herefordshire and Gloucestershire are expected to follow shortly afterwards.
Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire and Highlands & Islands are still progressing their procurements.
North Yorkshire’s project began implementation in July as it already has state aid approval.
Lancashire’s project has completed procurement and is currently awaiting the Commission’s decision on its own separate notification of state aid.
A further eight projects are currently undertaking their procurements using the Broadband Delivery Framework (Norfolk, Suffolk, Wiltshire, Devon & Somerset, Northamptonshire, Kent & Medway, Lincolnshire and Hampshire). The first four of these launched their invitations to tender at the beginning of July and are now nearing the point of agreeing a contract with their supplier.
Shropshire will launch its procurement next week.
All the remaining rural broadband projects are expected to complete their procurements by summer 2013.