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European Commission sanctions Greek broadband scheme

The European Commission has approved a €50m voucher scheme for faster broadband services in Greece under state aid rules. The scheme is designed to support the take-up in Greece of broadband services with download speeds of at least 100mbps.

The effort is designed to contribute to reducing a digital divide in the country while “limiting distortions of competition”, said the Commission.

According to the Digital Economy and Society Index 2018 (DESI 2018), the take up of high-speed broadband services in Greece is the lowest in the EU. The Greek government says one of the main reasons for this is the high-price of faster fixed broadband services, which is significantly higher than the EU average.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "The Greek Superfast broadband project aims to increase the number of consumers adopting high-speed services. The voucher scheme will help more people use higher-speed broadband services in areas where suitable infrastructure is available but insufficiently used.

“It will contribute to bridging the long-standing digital divide in Greece, in line with the objectives of the EU's Digital Single Market, while ensuring that competition is not unduly distorted."

The Greek authorities aim to increase the number of consumers using “superfast” services, which are defined by Greece as broadband services ensuring download speeds of at least 100mbps, while being readily upgradable to 1Gbps. The vouchers will support increased take-up by covering part of the set-up costs and of the monthly fee for a maximum of 24 months. Users will be able to activate the vouchers until 31 March 2020.

Greece notified the support measure for assessment by the Commission under state aid rules. The Commission found that even though the scheme is mainly aimed at consumers, it amounts to state aid in favour of telecommunication services providers, who will be able to offer such services over existing broadband infrastructures. Therefore, the Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(3)(c) TFEU.

The Commission says it has ensured that Greece will take adequate steps to avoid any undue distortion of competition, and in particular it will monitor that the scheme is not used to merely replace existing subscriptions to other high-speed broadband services. The Commission says the scheme will contribute to EU strategic objectives set out in its Digital Agenda for Europe and its “Gigabit Society” drive.