EU Suggests Need For Public Funding To Access Broadband

The vice president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda has said that public funding will be needed to bring about its goal of broadband for all across the region by 2013.

Neelie Kroes explained at the Nordic Broadband Forum in Copenhagen that it is unfair to expect telecoms companies alone to fund the creation of new networks across Europe.

"While it is right to expect telecoms companies to invest in new and more efficient networks, and it is right to have a socially inclusive system, it might be unfair to force the telecoms companies to fund the entire exercise," she said.

"We should keep in mind that universal broadband offers benefits beyond the telecoms sector."

Kroes outlined four ways that the rollouts could be funded to ensure the continent meets its commitments of broadband for all by 2013 and 30Mbit/s for all by 2020.

Firstly, to ensure rollouts across all areas of a country, there needs to be a move away from "sector-specific universal service funding towards a publicly financed system".

"This would be a recognition of the fact that ensuring universal broadband access, also covering remote and scarcely populated areas where the market alone would not deliver, is a basic need," said Kroes.

There could also be moves to develop a harmonised universal service obligation with a basic speed level as a minimum EU standard.

"This could be financed through a sectoral fund, with the speed level being updated from time to time in the light of technical and social developments," she explained.

"This would leave the way open for member states to set higher national universal service standards, or promote more ambitious broadband rollouts by using general taxation."

Kroes also suggested that a funding cap could be applied to telecoms firms to take into account the financial strength of companies in a given country, while creating funds for broadband rollouts at a proportionate rate to avoid distortions of competition.

Finally, Kroes said that legislation could be added to the EU Universal Service Directive that would allow governments to make private sector firms meet the universal service standards, where no other options are viable.

Kroes added that creating these networks is vital in closing the digital divide in Europe and bringing about numerous other benefits.

"The rollout of broadband will stimulate a virtuous cycle of activity that benefits European society. It will radically change the way we communicate, and revolutionise how we see and use services such as e-health and e-learning," she said.

"People will be able to use a much wider range of tools to connect with each other, enabling them to choose how to get their message across most effectively in their business and personal lives."

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