A European Policy for broadband needed now – article in New Europe

Over the last three years, the number of broadband connections has virtually doubled and the number of people connected almost quadrupled. With an internal market consisting of nearly 500 million people connected to broadband, Europe constitutes a globally unique and critical mass of users. Hence, the value of the net for each of its users depends on the number of other people being connected. In a world where the physical dimension has been made less important and no real boundaries longer exist, individual citizens are offered opportunities never seen before regarding information, communication, consumption and professional life.

However, if Europe is to stay in the lead of this crucial development and fulfil the Lisbon Strategy objective, conscious action will be required. Regulatory-measures formulated by policymakers must be shaped in a way that allows for creativity and rewards technological innovation and competition. The deployment of broadband is in fact significantly slower where there is less competition and where incumbents get to decide on the pace and development of services. I therefore wish to underline the importance of making a European policy for Broadband supportive of enhancing opportunities for competition and cutting-edge innovation.

Broadband in itself is not worth very much if you cannot use it, therefore this debate must be focused on the content provided via broadband connectivity, and not on the construction of infrastructural networks as such. More specifically, the services offered within the sectors of e-government, telemedicine and e-education are what bring real added value to European citizens. A concrete goal to strive for is getting all schools and educational centres hooked up to broadband in order to ensure that no children in Europe are left of line.

However, the digital revolution that we are experiencing today not only underlines the importance of further broadband deployment, but also highlights the potentially costly gamble of having some European regions falling behind. This can pose a serious threat, creating rifts between areas of high and low connectivity. The still existing disparity in terms of broadband deployment between urban centres and remote areas is a problem that must be strategically addressed. First of all, it needs to be underlined that is it is not the task of the Union to finance the general deployment of broadband. This is the task of the dynamic powers of a liberalised market. And today the speed of market-driven development is proven to be very high. Nevertheless, where such means are inadequate, public funding from the EU Structural and Rural Funds can be used as complementary measures to boost a demand for services. Such measures must be ensured to respect better regulation principles and competition law. Hence, public intervention may complement private investment, but should never pre-empt private sector initiatives and thereby distort competition. Such funding shall be based on the requirements of a level playing field that is open to new entrants and all competitors. In fact, developing a core set of European e-services should be made a special priority for the use of Structural and Rural funds. That way we wisely use Community funding for further integration and strengthening of cohesion in our continent.