Estonia wants to apply for EU funding for broadband last mile project

People working on computers.
People working on computers. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications is preparing a new broadband development project. The ministry hopes the European Union will also help with the next mile project.

Despite Elektrilevi receiving €20 million in state funding to bring high-speed internet to 40,000 consumers and communications companies making big investments, tens of thousands of households and businesses still live in places without good connections.

Late last year, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications began exploring what a new national development project could look like. Raigo Illing, Advisor to the Ministry's Communications Department, said it is first necessary to clarify where high-speed internet is needed at all.

"The feedback so far from communications companies and municipalities is such that it is even more important to find out where there are permanent residents, not summer cottages, and where there are more businesses. There is quite a lot of data to combine," Illing explained.

The project that Elektrilevi is currently working on was prepared quite simply. In essence, the one who promised to cover the most addresses for €20 million was offered the contract. In places excluded from Elektrilevi's choice, it is generally more expensive to take high-speed internet. Therefore, the new project needs better targeting.

"Maybe [we could] do smaller competitions in smaller regions. Even within the municipalities or counties, not to make this project very big. And also to involve more people in the application at an earlier stage or the people themselves to select areas that are worthwhile to go to first and where to go later," Illing said.

At the same time, he acknowledged that there is someone everywhere who wants a high-speed internet and it's not easy to make a choice. It is also important to work out where the money to finance the project will come from.

So far, the European Union has only supported the development of a basic network, the last mile being the responsibility of each country. But the rules may change for the new budget period.

"We are in substantive negotiations with the European Commission. The numbers will come to light once the Multiannual Financial Framework has been agreed and our domestic decisions have been made," he said.

If the numbers for the next budget period of the European Union are agreed, the Ministry will set out the principles for future support.

"How and under what conditions we are going to give support to somebody. We hope to have a clear discussion by the end of this year. Next year, then, would be the measure regulations and all that more concrete work. You may also need to map more specific areas beforehand. Construction could begin in 2022-2023," Illing said.

Editor: Helen Wright

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