The EU Commission approves €20 million voucher scheme to support access to broadband services by students in Greece essential in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak

State aid: Commission approves €20 million voucher scheme to support access to broadband services by students in Greece*

The European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules a €20 million voucher scheme to help students in Greece access broadband services and benefit from remote online learning.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “This €20 million Greek voucher scheme will help students in Greece cover the costs for accessing internet broadband services. The scheme will help ensure that eligible students can have access to educational services provided online, through the technology they choose. This has become even more essential in the context of the coronavirus outbreak where distance learning has become the norm. The measure will also more generally help promote the development of digital and transversal skills, making education more flexible and easy to access.”

The Greek scheme aims at providing vouchers to cover all or part of the monthly bills for eligible broadband services. The scheme will be accessible to up to 50,000 students per academic year.

Greece notified the support measure for assessment by the Commission under EU State aid rules. The Commission found that the scheme is mainly aimed at students, whilst at the same time amounting to indirect State aid in favour of telecommunication services providers, who will be able to offer the supported broadband services.

The Commission therefore assessed the measure under State aid rules, in particular Article 107(2)(a) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which allows Member States to grant aid having a social character to individual consumers, subject to certain specific conditions, in particular that the aid is granted without discrimination related to the origin of the products and services concerned.

The Commission found that the measure will be technologically neutral. In this respect, the students will be able to use the voucher to subscribe to any supported broadband service from the provider of their choice. Furthermore, there will be no discrimination based on the origin of the telecommunications provider or the origin of the products and services.

On this basis, the Commission concluded that the scheme is in line with EU State aid rules and contributes to the EU strategic objectives set out in the Digital Agenda for Europe and in the Communication "Towards a European Gigabit Society".

Background

Broadband connectivity is of strategic importance for European growth and innovation in all sectors of the economy, as well as for social and territorial cohesion. The Digital Agenda for Europe acknowledges the socio-economic benefits of broadband and sets targets for broadband development in Europe, including that 50% or more of European households should subscribe to internet connections above 100 Mbps.

The Digital Agenda for Europe was complemented in 2016 by the Gigabit Society Communication, which defines connectivity objectives to be achieved by 2025, where the development of very high capacity networks able to provide download speeds of at least 100 Mbps, upgradeable to 1 Gbps, should enable the widespread use of products, services and applications in the Digital Single Market.

The non-confidential version of the current decision will be made available under the case number SA.57357 in the State Aid Register on the Commission’s competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of State aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the Weekly Competition Newsletter.

*This is the original title of the press release. The title above has been amended in order to match the e-Competitions format. Individual authors are welcome to provide original independent commentaries on the case law. Articles are subject to approval by the Board of e-Competitions Bulletin before publication based on the Editorial Policy (click here).

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Citation

European Commission, The EU Commission approves €20 million voucher scheme to support access to broadband services by students in Greece essential in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, 3 décembre 2020, e-Competitions January 2021, Art. N° 98290

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