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From Lexis Nexis
The European Commission has announced a directive to bring broadband Internet to all of Europe by 2010. In a communication released earlier this week, the Commission said that EU member states must mobilise their collective policies toward bridging the "broadband gap" in rural and less-developed areas.
The Commission considers broadband coverage as a fundamental part of the region's economy in the future. The Commission feels that competition and open markets are the best drivers of broadband take-up in the region, but that certain areas, especially rural ones, go untouched by this approach. If the EU and its member states "make a clever use of all policy instruments," Commissioner Viviane Reding said, "broadband for all Europeans is certainly not out of reach by 2010."
Targeted state aid, the Commission suggests, could provide broadband services in areas not served by the open market. There is a fine line, of course, between state aid boosting availability and crowding out private providers or distorting competition.
Broadband take-up is expanding rapidly in Europe, currently reaching 13 percent of the population with almost 60m lines across the EU at the end of 2005. Around 90 percent of businesses and households in urban areas have broadband access. There is still a significant gap between urban and rural areas, though, where only around 60 percent of businesses and households have broadband access. Speeds are often lower in rural areas, averaging less than 512 kbps, compared to urban areas, which often have speeds above 1 Mbps.
To accelerate the roll-out of advanced broadband communications for all of Europe, the Commission strongly encourages public-private partnerships which bring broadband to rural areas. The Commission recently approved, for example, state aid in Ireland for broadband networks which operated under public-private partnerships.
The Commission has also proposed two main strands of action to expand broadband penetration. First, EU member states should strengthen their respective national broadband strategies, setting clear targets which reflect regional needs using EU and national funding. Also, the Commission plans to set up a website which will serve as a forum for exchanging information among member states, local authorities and the telcoms industry.
To further discuss the bridging of the broadband gap, the Commission also plans to hold a "Broadband for all" conference in the first half of 2007.