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Ed Vaizey

A ‘Yes’ from Brussels and a vote of confidence in Channels 3 and 5

There have been two important developments on the telecoms and creative industries fronts in the last week or so.

Firstly, we’ve finally got the green light from Brussels to get cracking on our plans to roll out high speed broadband to every home and business in the UK, and secondly we’ve been able to renew the broadcasting licences for both Channels 3 and 5 so that they can continue for a further ten years.

State Aid rules

In each case this is good news. The EU ruling turned on whether or not our plans to invest £530 million in a rural broadband scheme breached State Aid rules. State Aid? That’s the:

'forms of assistance from a public body, or publicly-funded body, given to selected undertakings (any entity which puts goods or services on the given market), which has the potential to distort competition and affect trade between member states of the European Union. The European Commission monitors and controls State Aid in the EU. Member States are obliged to notify and seek approval from the Commission before granting State Aid. This gives the Commission the opportunity to approve or refuse to approve the proposed measure.’

And, thanks to the Secretary of State, we have cleared the final hurdles with the Commission. The process took far too long, though it is worth noting that this was partly because no other EU country has such an ambitious scheme to support the roll out of broadband, so we are pioneers.

Best superfast broadband network in Europe

We will now be able to start work in earnest on getting the cables down and creating a network that will allow us to deliver the best superfast broadband network in Europe.

And that means business opportunities and job creation right across the UK, because really good broadband connections for everyone are an absolute sine qua non for economic growth in the 21st century and that, of course, is our absolute number one priority.

The map to the right show the progress of broadband projects across the UK. Click on a pin to see more details, or view the map in a larger window

Public service programming

Downton AbbeyThe decision on the Channel 3 and 5 licences – to renew them for a further ten years – is important in a different way. It doesn’t (necessarily) mean that Downton Abbey and The Wright Stuff will still be with us in 2023, though I hope they will, but what it does mean is that all the C3 and C5 broadcasters can plan creatively for their public service programming, safe in the knowledge that they’re not about to lose their licence to do so.

Security and confidence

Better yet, all the multitude of independent programme makers in the UK will benefit as providers of content, safe in the knowledge that the channels will now have the security and confidence to invest in them.

Neither of these developments – the go-ahead for broadband roll-out, and the renewing of commercial TV licences – are front-page stories in themselves, but in the longer term both will make a real difference to the economy and help the UK do what it does best: harness its world-beating innovation, creativity and enterprise. And that’s definitely something to shout about.

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