MEPs welcome EU go-ahead for superfast internet scheme; roll out to rural parts of the South West to start ‘within weeks’ - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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MEPs welcome EU go-ahead for superfast internet scheme; roll out to rural parts of the South West to start ‘within weeks’

Wednesday, 21 November 2012
The European Union has given the go-ahead to proposed UK government support worth £1.5 billion to get broadband to parts of the country currently off the grid. The Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme aims to provide as many UK homes and businesses as possible with access to superfast broadband infrastructure and South Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are in line to benefit. Two of the regions MEPs have welcomed the news, with one expecting the work to get underway ‘within weeks’.

Joaquín Almunia, the Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy, said in a statement that the UK scheme “will be a big step towards the achievement of the EU Digital Agenda targets and a strong impetus for growth in the UK".

The government has pledged to connect everyone to speeds of at least 2 Mbps by 2015 and in order to do this set up an umbrella scheme for implementing around 140 local broadband support projects so as to avoid lodging individual state aid notifications to the Commission. Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the green light from Brussels “will mean a huge boost for the British economy”.

Now that the European Commission has given so-called state aid clearance to the project, South West MEP, Julie Girling, expects the work to get underway within weeks and she believes it could revolutionise parts of the region that have been marginalised until now. “It should literally be within weeks because all the information I have been given when I have been digging around asking ministers and the Commission about this is that it is all ready to go and it was just a question of getting that permission to spend public money on it,” she said.

Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson, who has campaigned on behalf of the region earlier in the year directly to Commissioner Almunia, says many local business owners should see the benefits: “what we’re trying to do is put high speed broadband in to 90 percent of all premises meaning that most places other than isolated villages will be able to benefit from much higher broadband speeds, probably up to 20 times what they currently are and that makes a huge difference if you’re trying to run a business”.

For example, “if you are running a small hotel or guest house and you want customers elsewhere in the world or elsewhere in the UK to be able to look at the facilities you offer online they can now do so much more quickly,” he said. “It is going to increase business opportunity and the number of business transactions that are made. That will be a huge boost to the region’s economy and will help us create more jobs.

Sir Graham also used this case to criticise those who used the long delay in awaiting this decision for anti-EU point-scoring, saying: "jumping up and down on the sidelines until you're blue in the face will not get these sorts of disputes resolved. You need to be in the room, knocking on the right doors, making the telephone calls to get the ball moving again”.

NOTE: includes quotes from audio produced by Quadrant media used with kind permission.

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