A wide range of EU policy instruments and funds are now being activated to boost the spread of broadband internet to poorer regions.
In spite of the rapid broadband take-up across Europe in the past three years, the EU still needs to close a widening gap beween urban and rural areas, the Commission has concluded in a communication published on 21 March 2006.
The prospect of low and uncertain returns on investment has meant that broadband has not yet fully reached a number of less-developed areas. Thus, in 2005, broadband was available to about 60% of businesses and households in rural areas of the EU-15, but to more than 90% in the urban areas. This gap is even greater in the new member states.
“Connections are a prerequisite for e-business, growth and jobs throughout the economy. Competition and open markets are certainly the best drivers of broadband in the EU. However, broadband connections must not be limited to the big cities,” said Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media.
The Commission now wants help closing the gap. “Where there are genuine market failures, the EU Structural Funds play a vital role in stimulating investments in broadband infrastructure and services, boosting competitiveness and innovation and enabling all regions of Europe to participate fully in the knowledge economy,” added Commissioner Danuta Hübner, Commissioner responsible for Regional Policy.
The EU’s Rural Development policy also enables funds to be used to create new business opportunities in the countryside.
The overall EU broadband penetration rate in 2005 is estimated at 13% of the population and at about 25% of households, reaching almost 60 million lines throughout the EU.