EU legislation 
puts block on broadband upgrade for 
the Capital

Edinburgh won its share of a broadband upgrade windfall, but this funding falls foul of EU competition rules. Picture: Greg Macvean
Edinburgh won its share of a broadband upgrade windfall, but this funding falls foul of EU competition rules. Picture: Greg Macvean
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MAJOR upgrades to the Capital’s high-speed broadband network have been scrapped at the 11th hour after a Westminster funding pot fell foul of EU competition rules.

Edinburgh was one of ten UK cities to win a share in a £100 million windfall to boost the scope and speed of wi-fi internet access under the Super-Connected Cities Initiative.

The project aimed to bring high-speed broadband to 90 per cent of the city’s residents and businesses within three years. Nine other UK cities including London, Belfast and Cardiff were due to receive support totalling £114 million.

The UK government said is aim was to give the UK the fastest internet speeds in Europe by 2015.

But a blunder at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has left the Capital scrambling to reboot its bid amid threats of an EU investigation into State Aid infringements – used to preserve competition from government intervention.

To avoid an 18-month probe, the funding scheme was scrapped in its original form, with all bids sent back to the drawing board. The city then had just three weeks to redraft a completely different business case before deadline.

Today, finance chiefs spearheading the £10.7m tender said they were “frustrated” and felt “let down” by the botched project, which would have offered speeds of up to 100Mbps (megabits per second).

Councillor Alasdair Rankin, convenor of the finance committee, said: “This should never have been a problem if the scheme had been thought through properly in the first place.

“It’s very frustrating from the council’s point of view. We had a team who put together an excellent bid that came very near the top of the ten cities that were successful.

“We now find that is not possible and are in the process of reconsidering. It’s frustrating and means we will be delivering a different kind of service to what we had envisaged and on a longer time scale.”

“We are aiming to come up with proposals that means the State Aid consideration doesn’t come into play and we can get the maximum benefit out of the £10.7m that was originally proposed.”

It is not yet known whether the new proposal will see works downgraded from what was originally submitted, but the proposed introduction of free wi-fi access across the city centre is not thought to be affected.

A DCMS spokesperson said: “Following the revision in State Aid guidelines and developments in the broadband market, the Super Connected Cities programme will now focus on investments in connectivity that drive economic growth and demand for high- speed broadband, including a connection voucher scheme to address the relatively high cost of getting connected for some SMEs.”

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com