The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Surveillance Authority has announced its approval for a nationwide state aid scheme to roll out broadband infrastructure in Norway. The scheme aims to ensure that all Norwegian citizens receive good quality of basic broadband services, while also seeking to increase offers of Next Generation Access services (NGA), mainly in rural and scarcely populated areas. It is understood that the aid scheme will cover both areas where there is no basic broadband infrastructure at all – roughly 0.4% of the population at present – and areas without NGA infrastructure, and where such infrastructure is unlikely to be built within the next three years. Local telecoms regulator the Norwegian Post and Telecommunication Authority will manage the scheme, it has been confirmed, with both counties and municipalities eligible to apply for funding.
In making the announcement, the EFTA Surveillance Authority confirmed that the state aid scheme fulfils all the compatible conditions set out in its Broadband Guidelines, noting that it will ‘ensure technological neutrality and wholesale access’. Taking into account the NOK2 billion (USD406 million) budget for the scheme, the Norwegian authorities have reportedly agreed to carry out an evaluation of the scheme‘s efficiency.
Commenting on the development, Ms Oda Helen Sletnes, president of the EFTA Surveillance Authority, noted: ‘High quality of broadband services contributes to economic and social growth. The Authority welcomes the initiative of the Norwegian authorities to increase investments in broadband networks by adopting a nationwide scheme. A well designed state aid scheme can effectively contribute to avoid a digital divide.’