Brussels Broadband Battle
Lib Dem Euro MPs Graham Watson and Catherine Bearder have challenged the European Commission to end legal wrangles holding up tens of millions of pounds for highspeed broadband.
They have taken complaints from over a dozen local councils directly to Commission Vice-President Joaquin Almunia, who holds the competition brief, to lobby for a swift resolution to the row.
A number of areas across the South West and South East regions won bids last year after a coalition government tender to roll out high-speed broadband in rural areas vital for local business. However as the bids fall under state aid rules, such grants must be approved by the European Commission to comply with single market competition rules. A legal dispute between government agency Broadband Delivery UK and the Commission has led to delays in the funding being made available.
Over £100 million has been pledged to principal councils across the country, with Devon, Somerset, Swindon, South Gloucestershire and Wiltshire among those receiving the latest tranche of funding.
Graham Watson commented: "Simply standing around and making a lot of noise about Brussels bureaucrats gets us nowhere. We must find ways to resolve the issue in a civil manner and get down to the base of the problem. This is why I have taken these councils' concerns directly to the European Commission for answers. I had a very positive conversation with the Commissioner and he is well aware of the frustration of local authorities who want to start rolling out high speed rural broadband. The problems are largely legal issues. I believe that with the level of public pressure now being brought to bear on Broadband Delivery UK and the Commission, we should see a resolution by the end of the summer. To be within inches of the funding to unlock that money is deeply frustrating for everyone involved."
The problem has also affected councils in East and West Sussex, Hampshire, Kent and Surrey where Broadband Delivery UK is poised to provide £33 million, to top up £57 million set aside by councils. South East MEP Catherine Bearder said: "Superfast broadband is needed now and any further delay will have a damaging impact on businesses, who are desperate for higher internet speeds. "We need this money now to boost economic growth outside towns and cities."