Kroes’ disappointment as 2020 broadband plan for rural areas potentially in tatters

11 Feb 2013

Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

The European Union’s decision to chop €7bn off the €9.2bn earmarked to meet the Digital Agenda goals of 100Mbps for half of Europe could impact on countries’ ability to deliver on these targets in rural areas. The EU Commissioner driving the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes expressed her disappointment at the weekend.

European broadband projects had been counting on the €9.2bn digital part of the Connecting Europe Facility.

But following the EU’s agreement on its 2014-2020 budget, this now leaves just €1bn – which is insufficient to deliver or accelerate fibre broadband delivery in rural parts of Europe.

This money will instead go into areas like cross-border digital services, like e-procurement and e-invoicing.

In the long run this will impact the European economy as businesses in these rural locations find themselves locked out of the global digital economy and at a distinct disadvantage to their counterparts in other parts of the world where there is sufficient broadband infrastructure.

“I am, of course, disappointed that Member States could not agree on our proposal for the digital part of the Connecting Europe Facility, only agreeing to €1bn out of the €9.2bn we had put forward,” Kroes said on Saturday.

“This still leaves room to invest in service infrastructure, in fields like e-procurement and e-invoicing, that can support a digital single market and ensure top quality, 21st-century public services for Europeans.

“But this funding will have to be exclusively for digital services because such a smaller sum does not leave room for investing in broadband networks.

“I regret that because broadband is essential for a digital single market, the rails on which all tomorrow’s digital services will run; and this could have been an innovative and highly market-oriented way to deliver it, almost budget-neutral in the long run.

“Nonetheless, we have all agreed on broadband targets for Europe, including fast broadband coverage for all by 2020. Those agreed objectives are now harder to reach, but we should stay focused on that goal. I will keep fighting, and I will support innovations that help roll out fast broadband to under-served areas. The Connecting Europe Facility was an important tool to move towards that goal, but not the only one,” Kroes said.

In September, Ireland’s Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte laid out targets to achieve at least 70Mbps to 100Mbps for half the population and a minimum of 30Mbps broadband in every home and business in Ireland by 2015.

A State investment of €175m has been envisaged for the implementation of this plan, which will in the large part rely on commercial investment by the telecoms sector.

At the time Rabbitte said the National Broadband Strategy will be paid for through a combination of EU State Aid and his department’s own capital programme.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years