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Brussels, 14 July 2005

High-speed internet access: Commission opens policy debate on closing the broadband gap

A public consultation on policy measures needed to bring high-speed internet access to Europe’s under-served areas was opened by the European Commission today. Stakeholders, EU Member States and local/regional authorities are invited to contribute their views on the serious broadband challenge now facing Europe, as set out in a Commission staff working paper entitled “Broadband access and public support in under-served areas”. High-speed and secure broadband networks are vital to the Commission’s “i2010” strategy for boosting growth and jobs in the digital economy (see IP/05/643 ).

Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said: “Europeans are connecting to broadband fast, but discrepancies remain between urban and rural areas of the European Union. Yet broadband is key to our competitiveness and the challenge of closing this gap must be addressed urgently. I invite the Governments of Member States experiencing a digital divide to act now, in close coordination with the European Commission, so that all households and businesses that need and want broadband access to the web can obtain it as soon as possible.”

Access to high-speed broadband communications networks and broadcasts opens up access to the digital economy for all, and provides a new vehicle for creativity to generate growth and jobs. It also fosters Europe as a cross-border community, by making it easier to form and inform communities of interest, irrespective of geographic location. Take-up of high-speed “broadband” internet connections, driven by competition to supply faster, lower-priced internet access, is growing fast. There are now 40 million broadband lines in the EU, an increase of 70% on last year (see IP/05/642). Nevertheless, commercial deployment in remote and scarcely populated areas has been constrained by high costs. In January 2005, broadband was available to 90% of the urban population in the EU (15 Member States[1]) and in the European Economic Area (EEA), but to only 62% of the rural population. This phenomenon has come to be known as the broadband digital divide.

The Commission staff working paper published today, which was prepared with stakeholder input, illustrates the development of the rural broadband markets of the EU15/EEA. It explains the pros and cons of government initiatives for extending broadband coverage, describes alternative technologies and provides examples of publicly-financed broadband projects. The paper concludes that, although commercial forces are expected to drive further broadband deployment, some areas of the EU are likely to suffer delayed coverage or will be excluded from the rollout of broadband-enabled services altogether. Public projects aiming at extending broadband deployment are best focused on addressing local needs and demand. Furthermore, initiatives to widen broadband coverage should be complemented by other actions that depend on broadband availability, e.g. retraining people or the promotion of eBusiness.

The paper proposes two policy orientations:

• strengthening national broadband strategies (as part of the Commission’s growth and jobs strategy and of the Commissioner Reding’s new i2010 Roadmap;

• improving the exchange of best practices, inter alia by gathering and sharing information on broadband deployment projects and tenders.

Please join in the debate on:

On Commissioner Reding’s i2010-Roadmap:

[1] Reliable data for the 10 new Member State will not be available before the end of 2005.

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