EUROPE: EU plans for high-speed internet revealed

Opportunities for research funding into the next generation of digital technologies were unveiled last week with the European Commission's long awaited report on next generation networks, which set out the European Union's plans for implementing the next generation of high-speed internet connections.

Commissioner Neelie Kroes hopes it will pave the way for a fully digital internal electronic communications and media market in the EU by 2015. She said in Brussels last week: "Fast broadband is digital oxygen, essential for Europe's prosperity and well-being."

Earlier this month at Erasmus University in the Netherlands she spoke of her belief that the EU's digital agenda would eventually develop "a new culture that will facilitate research, innovation and entrepreneurship".

Greater investment and "risky" research will help hugely in forming this culture, she said. Her comments came as the commission started discussions on the next major research spending within its Eighth Framework Programme, which will begin in 2014.

Kroes believes the next development stage of the high speed internet could create up to one million jobs throughout the EU. She has often said that digital literacy must be at the heart of education and training systems, which will inspire a wider fast internet capability.

Her new 'Digital Agenda for Europe' package, welcomed by European Ministers in May, includes three main features:

* Plans for boosting high-speed broadband communications.
* Guidelines in how to boost access to next generation digital technologies.
* A proposed new radio spectrum allocation policy.

Speaking to University World News, a commission official said that according to an EU model, if the adoption of broadband across the EU until 2015 equals the average over the years 2004-05, it would will contribute to the creation of 1,076,000 jobs and broadband-related growth of economic activity would reach EUR849 billion (US$1.1 trillion) between 2006-15.

The political climate in the coming months will be dominated by debate over the size and distribution of the EU's 2011 budget, and Kroes will spend much of her time finding ways to attract broadband investment through the European Investment Bank and other EU funding schemes.

There will be strong competition for resources before the European Parliament gives its final approval to next year's budgetary package. Kroes remains confident, however, that her report will be accepted and regulatory proposals within will provide, in her words, "regulatory certainty across Europe".

She admits that providing basic broadband for 100% of EU citizens by 2013 could bring wider political challenges because of the technological difficulties and the competition for resources within EU spending budgets.

"Not everyone will be happy with the choices inherent in effective prioritisation," she says.