The aid requires a minimum budget of 100,000 euros
Broadband in Spain continues at a good speed. But the new public aid plan for this, which distributes 150 million euros among telecommunications operators, has not liked everyone equally.
The novelty of this year is that companies interested in these funds must submit projects with a minimum budget of 100,000 euros.
Local operators report that the requirement will leave most of them excluded, because they usually work on projects with a lower budget and limited geographic scope.
In your opinion
The deadline for the call, open on April 15 and active until May 27, does not allow them to present offers jointly.
The main affected, they maintain, will be the inhabitants of rural areas, because many do not arouse the interest of large companies.
The Government considers the new criterion “essential” to guarantee the effectiveness of the aid.
Antonio García Vidal
The president of the National Association of Telecommunications Operators (AOTEC), an entity that represents SMEs in the sector, says that in 2018 45% of the 185 projects that obtained public support for the same plan, called the Program of New Generation Broadband Extension (PEBA).
"Only 20% of the projects of local operators had more than 100,000 euros in budget", it states. As he adds, for small businesses this year it will be even more difficult to propose offers for municipalities of sufficient size to need that investment, because most already have access to networks.
Local operators have "in their DNA" working within their own municipality or at most in the surrounding area. In a statement, he adds that deploying broadband in a small town requires an investment "much lower than 10,000 euros."
Therefore, says the president of AOTEC, the conditions of the new call do not allow the participation of many companies of this type (In total there are almost 800 like this in Spain and they cover a market share of 2.95%, according to a study by the Polytechnic University of Cartagena), because they demand that bids are presented too broad to fit their needs.
Question of deadlines and competence
Sources from the Secretary of State for Digital Advancement (SEAD), an organ of the Ministry of Economy and Business responsible for PEBA, assure this newspaper that the 2019 plan does not exclude local operators because it “allows joint offers to be submitted”.
In this way, they will be able to distribute the “investment burden”. However, Garcia believes that two factors, "time and competition," complicate this option.
The representative of local telecos clarifies that there are cases in which these companies compete with each other, which does not always make it immediate to find agreements to develop joint projects. For that, he argues, it would take much more time than is granted in this year's call.
“The effect is that local operators have been neglected. And next to them, to all those projects in rural areas where not so much money is possibly needed ”, the president of AOTEC delves into his criticism.
“Who loses in all this? Not only local operators, but also competition and citizens of the areas where these companies will not be able to present their projects ”, It continues, before ensuring that wiring a real estate unit cost local operators an average of 62.40 euros compared to 171.99 euros for national and regional companies.
Garcia also states that at the last meeting with the representatives of the public administration, at the beginning of March, nobody warned them that a new requirement would be introduced. He said the 2018 plan "worked well" and called the new measure "incomprehensible."
"In our sector we have a saying, which is: if something works and works well, don't touch it."
"Overwhelming" need to review the aid plan
The same SEAD sources cited above ensure that the new criterion serves to "Prevent operators' investments from concentrating in areas of medium-sized municipalities that would already be profitable, and instead favor those investments being extended to more dispersed real estate units."
In this way, they say, the Government believes that it will be easier to spread broadband “with the greatest possible capillarity”.
Its focus is to deliver quality Internet "in particular in rural and isolated areas" and, for that, "The need to revise the PEBA plan model was imperative."
Last year, according to the same sources, only 122 of the 150 million euros available were awarded, which meant wasting 28.
"The model that we inherited from the previous Government showed signs of exhaustion and was unable to absorb the expected budget path," they assure.
These sources also deny that they want to discriminate against operators because of their size and argue that the change of model in the aid plan was submitted to public consultation.
The modifications have been postponed to “give more time to the dialogue”, and in the 2019 call only the “minimum essential” changes were introduced to adapt the call “to the reality of the areas pending coverage with broadband”, they conclude.
Of the 150 million allocated to the PEBA this year, 125 come from European funding and 25 from an item included in the General State Budget.
The objective of the Government is to make 98% of the Spanish population have access to networks of at least 30 megabits per second of speed in 2020 and that in 2021 93.5% have connections with a speed of more than 100 megabytes.
The strategic connectivity objectives established by the European Union. The latest data published by the Ministry of Economy and Business reflect that the minimum requirement of 30 megabytes has already been reached in 85% of the country, and in 54% of rural areas.
Remember that there are other broadband deployment projects beyond PEBA: one allows individuals and companies that do not reach 30 megabytes to request a contribution of up to 400 euros to install broadband with that minimum; another forces mobile phone operators to provide within this year 4G networks of 30 megabytes 90% of municipalities with less than 5,000 inhabitants.