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Brussels 'set to clear' state cash for UK broadband deployment

Loads of competition going on in rural broadband, seemingly

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Europe's competition commissioner has reportedly signalled that he will allow state investment by the UK to improve rural broadband within the next few weeks.

According to the Financial Times, only "minor changes" are required by Joaquin Almunia before the plan is granted approval from officials in Brussels. Other commissioners will also need to clear the process.

However, the European Union's vice presidential office declined to comment on the FT's report this morning when quizzed by the The Register. An EU competition spokeswoman told us:

"The Commission is in ongoing discussions with the British authorities. Once the Commission takes a decision, a press release will be issued."

Meanwhile, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has indicated that a decision was imminent by saying:

"It is our understanding that the commission is on track to issue its final decision in late October or early November, which will allow projects to get under way."

As El Reg has previously reported, the UK government is keen to get work started. The rural broadband projects are intended to improve network capacity in areas which have not so far been deemed worthwhile for private-sector investment.

However it was possible that government spending on broadband improvements could be seen as violating EU competition rules, with former national telco BT in position to receive most if not all of the cash.

We were told earlier this year by a DCMS spokesman that there would be no "spades in the ground" until Brussels approved state aid funding for the £530m Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project.

The situation has arguably been exacerbated by the fact that so far only BT has successfully bid for funding from local authorities. Fujitsu, the other main potential contender, has struggled unsuccessfully to win any deals - a situation probably now made worse by its recent exclusion from public sector contracts by other government departments.

It's a sticky wicket for the government, held up by the Brussels probe. Culture Secretary of State Maria Miller has reiterated the words of her predecessor Jeremy Hunt by saying that she hoped that Britain would have the "best" - if not the fastest - broadband network of any country in Europe by 2015, with the plan being to fibre-up 90 per cent of the UK. ®

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