Digital Inclusiveness: How to ensure no European is left behind

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Irina Varlan is the managing director at GIGAEurope.

Commission President von der Leyen calling digital “make or break” for Europe’s recovery and sovereignty in her recent State of the Union provides new political impetus to the 2030 digital objectives and targets for digital transformation.

Digital policies that are human-centered, inclusive, sustainable and empower citizens and businesses should be reinforced and promoted.

The new ’Path to the Digital Decade’ mechanism is a structured framework, driving forwards joint commitments between the Commission and member states to ensure Europe reaches its 2030 Digital Decade objectives. Inclusiveness is one of the key values associated with Europe’s Path to the Digital Decade.

Underpinning the Digital Compass targets with gigabit connectivity
The four dials making up the 2030 Digital Compass include Skills, Digital Transformation of Businesses, Secure and Sustainable Digital Infrastructures and Digitalisation of Public Services. Each dial must be underpinned with world-class, reliable gigabit connectivity if Europe is to succeed.

For example, the Commission has set a target that, by 2030, at least 80% of all adults should have basic digital skills, and there should be 20 million employed ICT specialists in the EU – and that this should be equally split between men and women.

However, such training relies on access to connectivity in the first instance. We must ensure all Europeans can participate in the Digital Decade – regardless of location.

The essential enabler for an inclusive digital transformation is therefore secure and reliable connectivity. It is fitting then, that by 2030 the Commission has a goal to ensure all European households are covered by a Gigabit network, with all populated areas covered by 5G.

Addressing the connectivity investment gap of €42bn a year up to 2030
Committed to enabling widespread access to connectivity and success in achieving the ambitious Digital Decade targets, GIGAEurope members continue to invest in widespread deployment of their fixed and mobile very high capacity networks, in addition to research and development to fuel further innovation.

These investments are always forward-looking by provisioning network capacity, to anticipate, meet and exceed demand trends by individuals and businesses.

The fact that Europe’s networks were able to meet unexpected surges in internet traffic due to increased usage while homeworking for example, during the pandemic is testimony to the success of this approach. This was in addition to providing network capacity and services for critical government functions.

However, the sector faces a substantial connectivity investment gap of €42bn a year, which must be addressed in order for Europe to accelerate its connectivity at the speed needed to achieve the Digital Decade. Public and private investment in European digital infrastructure plays an essential role in addressing the gap.

Policy reforms needed to attract more long-term investment
In order to retain and attract more long-term investment, a number of important policy reforms are needed, to provide clarity, improve businesses cases and facilitate a common approach that nurtures funds.

First, the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive is being adapted to further reduce cost and streamline procedures for local permits to build and roll-out Gigabit infrastructure and 5G networks.

Second, the revised Broadband State Aid Guidelines should lead to avoid unnecessary overbuild of private infrastructure by subsidised networks and thus lead to more efficient spending of public funds to connect truly remote and rural areas under the Next Generation EU’s Recovery & Resilience Facility.

Third, member states are being called upon to accelerate and complete the 5G spectrum auctions and to respect mobile operators’ investment model in view of the 5G coverage commitments.

We fully support the new governance model introduced by the Digital Policy Programme, and look forward to partnering with policy-makers to ensure Europe achieve its Digital Decade targets.

Please join our EURACTIV-GIGAEurope Digital Debate Series on Tuesday, 12 October, where we will discuss how to overcome current challenges to reach a digitally inclusive Europe by 2030.

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