“Broadband for all”: Kroes issues wake-up call to European governments

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission

Future generations will “curse the missed opportunity” if the European broadband sector does not successfully negotiate the “tough political and investment decisions” that stand in its path, according to Neelie Kroes, vice president for the digital agenda at the European Commission. Kroes was speaking in the keynote session on Tuesday morning, and warned that Europe is “slipping behind” in productivity growth.

Fast broadband is essential to the growth of the cloud sector—something close to Kroes’ heart—as well as other emerging areas including e-government, telehealth, connected vehicles and smart cities.

“We cannot condemn people to a Europe of old, unreliable networks,” she said, urging national regulators to work harder to provide additional spectrum for advanced wireless broadband services: “Too few Europeans can enjoy LTE and national governments need to change that as a matter of urgency.”

If they don’t, she said, “manufacturers will ignore our continent’s needs”. This may well have been a reference to Apple, which opted not to support the main European LTE bands with the launch of the iPhone 5, restricting the device’s LTE capabilities to operators with 1800MHz spectrum.

Kroes made much of the role of member states’ governments in encouraging and promoting the development of fast broadband, both mobile and fixed. Private sector funding alone will not be enough to keep Europe competitive, she said. For companies looking at investment in new broadband infrastructure in Europe today, “the risk is too great and confidence too week.”

Pointing to “massive investment” in broadband infrastructure in markets like China, where 35 million fiber connections have been deployed in 2012, and the US, where high speed broadband passes 80 per cent of homes, Kroes warned of the dangers to Europe in falling behind.

International businesses will want to base themselves in markets with the best infrastructure, Kroes added, and Europe should not become complacent about its attractions. “It is easy to say that innovation will continue indefinitely, but will it? Europe’s competitive position is not carved in stone. We have talent, innovation and resource, but we need to create a digital single market,” she said.

In Europe only one million homes have fast symmetric broadband, Kroes went on, which is penetration of less than half a per cent. “We need fast broadband for all, and it is time for national decision makers to wake up to that.”

Governments should look to the potential benefits of broadband, she added. The European population is ageing, with one third of adults now over 65. Investment in the kind of broadband that could help enable great advances in telehealth could save significant sums in the cost of future healthcare services, she suggested.

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