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The UK government's bid to set up a "universal service" for mobile broadband could be under threat from a recent judgement from the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).

The ruling stated that under current EU rules, ministers could not force internet networks and service providers to fund schemes designed to ensure affordable access to mobile broadband across the EU.

The news comes after the previous coalition government announced last year it was looking to push what it referred to as a National Roaming agreement, which was met with a lukewarm response and plenty of criticism.

Mobile operators were particularly critical, countering a proposal with plans to ensure Three, Vodafone, O2 and EE all committed to a £5 billion project to extend geographic network coverage of the UK from 80% to 90% by 2017.

Yet those plans also only aimed to push data on 3G and 4G from 69% to 85% over the same period.

Unlike mobile broadband, fixed-line internet services are subject to the EU's Universal Services Direct, which was implemented in order to ensure citizens across the EU could access a connection of a certain quality at an affordable price, no matter where they live, as long as it does not have a negative impact on competition.

While the CJEU has acknowledged that EU countries may "consider mobile communication services" as part of the directive, they cannot impose "a financing mechanism for those services involving specific undertakings".

The UK is not the only country that has attempted to extend universal coverage to mobile operators.

Two mobile telecoms companies in Belgium recently challenged legislation from their own government stating that certain categories of consumers should receive internet services, including mobile communications, on the basis of a special "social tariff".

According to, Base Company and Mobistar said financing for the initiative breached the Universal Service Directive.

Telecoms law expert Simon Colvin of Pinsent Masons, the legal firm behind, told the site that the UK would need to re-think its bid to secure universal mobile broadband coverage.

He said: "The UK government will need to consider carefully how it implements its ambitious broadband policies with the current constraints imposed through the directive."

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