Community efforts to boost citizens’ access to the web are paying off, with 40 million more Europeans becoming “regular internet users” last year, according to a new Commission report.
Over 250 million Europeans now regularly use the internet, among which 80% have access to high-speed broadband, reveals the report published on 18 April.
Meanwhile, over 60% of public services in the EU are already “fully available online,” while two thirds of schools and just under half of doctors have fast broadband connections, according to the EU executive’s mid-term review of its ICT strategy, ‘i2010‘, agreed upon in 2005.
The results show that ICT “is being promoted by all 27 EU member states in their national policies,” said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding, welcoming the “change of political direction”.
Nevertheless, almost 40% of Europeans do not use the internet at all, the report revealed, with 69% of Romanians, 65% of Bulgarians and 62% of Greeks not yet connected.
At last month’s Spring Summit, EU leaders failed to endorse the Commission’s plan to connect one in three households to high-speed broadband internet by 2010, opting for “ambitious” yet non-binding national targets instead (EURACTIV 17/03/08).
Meanwhile, the EU executive’s 2007 report on the EU telecoms sector, published on 19 March, found that just one in five households have high-speed internet connections, well below the bloc’s target of 30% (EURACTIV 19/03/08).
The growth in high-speed internet use among public services such as the education and health sectors is “especially good news”, said Commissioner Reding. The report shows that 77% of EU businesses, 67% of schools and 48% of doctors had broadband connections in 2007, indicating significant growth over the last few years. 96% of schools are now connected to the internet in some form.
Reding admitted that “some parts of the EU are lagging behind” and urged EU countries to “work harder to close the gaps” by enhancing cross-border communication services and ensuring remote and rural regions are connected.
The Commission will launch “large-scale projects” in May 2008 to boost the provision of public services online, especially “pan-European public services like the cross-border operation of electronic identity or electronic signatures,” it said in a press release.
The EU executive will also publish a guide to EU citizens’ digital rights later this year “to encourage use of new online technologies”.