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How do CAP Rural Development Programmes contribute to close the digital gap?

The Digital Single Market (DSM) aims to close the digital gap between rural and urban areas and to provide fast/ultra-fast broadband on the whole territory of the European Union. Nevertheless, in 2013, only 25.1 % of rural areas were covered by the Next Generation Access (NGA = at least 30 Mbps download), as compared to 68.1% in urban areas. . One of the main causes of this irregular distribution is that private operators don’t find economic benefits in investing in rural areas due to the fewer potential users. Thus, public funding has to play the role of stimulating investment and overcoming these disadvantages.

According to Phil Hogan, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, “Introducing or improving broadband coverage in rural areas is crucial for boosting growth jobs in rural areas, enabling business to remain competitive, integrating rural areas into the overall economic context, and enhancing the attractiveness of rural communities.” Hogan also underlined the importance of the “One Stop Shop”, which is a proposal for mayors or other regional representatives so that they can easily have access to centralised information about the European Union funding -opportunities available for broadband.

For the moment, in European Union’s rural areas, comparing to urban areas, there is a big gap regarding fast and ultra-fast broadband. This gap not only refers to coverage but also to speed, quality and cost.

To reduce the digital gap in rural areas, in the 2014-2020 period, EAFRD will be able to finance some specific measures for the development of ICT in rural areas, such as “broadband infrastructure, including its creation, improvement and expansion, passive broadband infrastructure and provision of access to broadband and public e-government solutions”(EU regulation 1305/2013, Article 20 c). . By 2020, the EAFRD contribution is expected to reach € 1.6 to 2.0 billion.

Several good examples have already been developed to introduce superfast broadband in rural areas. Some of these initiatives have been funded by private actors and others have been self- established projects, for instance via LEADER. One of these examples took place in Glasfaser Waldiviertel (Austria). This area had poor internet access and no incumbent operator planned to serve small communities with ADSL, thus the mayor decided to create the ARGE Glasfaser Waldviertel. After building up a fibre-optic infrastructure linked to every property, they have found an operator that offered services with triple play access. The inhabitants can now have fast-speed Internet in an easy way.

Euromontana has already underlined the importance of having high-speed broadband in all mountain areas. It has signed the ENGAGE manifesto for high speed broadband and has worked during 3 years on the DANTE (Digital Agenda for new Tourism Approach in Rural and Mountain areas) to improve the use of ICT in the tourism policies and by tourism actors. So it encourages the Member States to strengthen the EAFRD measures dedicated to improve the broadband infrastructures and develop a specific strategy to enhance digital skills in mountain areas.

If you want further details about the Digital Single Market, please, click here

28 May 2015

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