Broadband Platform report calls for more investment to tackle the digital divide

The joint European Commission (EU) and European Committee of the Regions (CoR) Broadband Platform held its second meeting on 2 February. The discussions focused on the role of the Broadband Competence Offices and on ways to boost broadband investment in view of the preparation of the European Union's next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

Alin Nica (RO/EPP), vice-chair of the CoR's SEDEC commission, and Claire Bury, Deputy Director-General of EC's DG CNECT, co-chaired the meeting. They highlighted the importance of concerted actions by the two institutions, such as the Broadband Platform and emphasised the crucial role connectivity plays in Europe to achieve the goals set by the Gigabit Society communication and the Electronic Communications Code. Therefore it is necessary to ensure that any kind of digital connectivity gap is eliminated and that all European citizens equally reap the benefits of the digital society.

The Broadband Platform members – regional and local politicians from EU Member States –were particularly interested in the functioning of the Broadband Competence Offices, especially in the 73 regional ones, where it was noted that a lack of data at regional level represents a major problem. Participants raised concerns on the inflexibility of state aid schemes in some Member States and pointed out that a lack of fast and reliable broadband coverage remains a problem in many rural areas.

These concerns and the work of the Broadband Platform are reflected in a report submitted to the CoR's SEDEC commission, where it was adopted on 21 February in the form of opinion. Rapporteur Mart Võrklaev (EE/ALDE) recalled that in the current programming period, EUR 14 billion is available from the ESI funds to set up broadband infrastructure. In view of technology developments and continuously increasing needs, broadband connectivity should be considered as a financing priority using all available financial instruments and including resources both from the structural funds and from other sources such as European Investment Bank, other development banks etc.

Finally, the opinion emphasizes that broadband development plans should be developed jointly between telecommunications companies, the national level and local and regional authorities. In the interest of competition, the separation of services from the network (unbundling) is considered necessary in the same way as in the energy sector. The CoR plenary session on 22–23 March will be asked to adopt the SEDEC endorsed opinion.