State aid for broadband rollout approved

Delayed plans to roll out high-speed broadband to more remote parts of the UK can finally begin after the EU gave approval for state aid for the project.

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), which is part of the department for culture, media and sport, will start work on allocating the £530m of public money for regional projects.

The government wants 90 per cent of homes and businesses to have high speed broadband, and universal access to standard services of at least 2 Mbps as part of its promise to deliver “the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015”.

Local authorities will be able to sign procurement contracts with contractors and begin work on projects. So far, all contracts have been awarded to BT, raising fears that most of the work will go to the national telecoms network owner. BDUK has already cost almost £10m – for the recruitment of about 70 external consultants – according to government figures.

The state aid investigation of the BDUK project has taken much longer than the UK government had expected, meaning it has risked missing its targets for broadband rollout.

Maria Miller, culture secretary, who visited Brussels this month to ask for a speedier decision, said: “Finally getting the green light from Brussels will mean a huge boost for the British economy. Superfast broadband is essential to creating growth, jobs and prosperity and the delay has caused frustration within government.”

BDUK has a pipeline of local authority projects. Wales and Surrey are expected to be first, followed by projects in Cumbria, Rutland and Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.

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