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Bridging the Digital Divide: Ensuring High-Speed and Quality Internet in Europe Beyond 2020
01/19/2016 @ 10:10 - 16:30
In the era of fast and ultra-fast internet, the European Union has set ambitious objectives in order to keep pace with world leaders such as South Korea and Japan. As part of the Europe 2020 strategy, the Digital Agenda drafted by the European Commission aims at providing download rates of at least 30 Mbps for all its citizens across Europe as well as to reach a target of 50% of European households subscribing to internet connections above 100 Mbps by 2020. The Commission’s Communication on a Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe (May 2015) reinforces the role of high-speed, secure and affordable digital networks as the main driver for digital products and services to flourish.
Much progress has been made over the last decade and important targets have been reached – such as ensuring basic broadband access to the entire EU area by 2013. However, several key issues still need to be addressed until every citizen and business is connected to sufficient broadband infrastructures. To overcome investment barriers, infrastructure deployment costs must be lowered across the EU and MemberStates investment plans facilitated. The economic benefits of broadband are now undeniable, with the rise of new online services such as the cloud and connected TV which require high speed coverage, and figures showing that a 10% increase in broadband penetration can result in a 1-1.5 % increase in the GDP annually and 1.5% labour productivity gains.
On September 2015, the European Commission launched a Public Consultation on the ‘Needs for Internet Speed and Quality beyond 2020’ to assess and comprehend the existing barriers better and determine ways to develop policies helping the investors to deploy connectivity networks and to ensure that all users can take advantage of the digital economy and society. The Commission also adopted new instruments for a future oriented broadband policy with President’s Juncker announcement of an ‘Investment Plan for Europe’ – around 315 billion Euros over the next three years (2015-2017) – which will strongly focus on digital infrastructures and broadband. Furthermore, Juncker’s plan encompasses the creation of a new European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), designed to finance speed broadband and other digital networks in 2014-2020 including rural areas.
In order to provide better and open access to the internet for all Europeans, further development of broadband policy also needs to take into account not only the absorption of the digital divide, but the protection of the net neutrality principle. Therefore, it is necessary to tackle proposals which prevent users from freely accessing content online, and to ensure transparency and regulatory certainty for citizens, operators and all key stakeholders. This timely international symposium provides an invaluable opportunity to discuss how to overcome existing barriers to secure equal access to high-speed broadband across Europe. Public Policy Exchange welcomes the participation of all key partners, responsible authorities and stakeholders. The symposium will support the exchange of ideas and encourage delegates to engage in thought-provoking topical debate.