Copenhagen, Denmark, June 30, 2023 - In recent months, the European Commission has placed a renewed focus on its “Digital Decade” initiative – launching a new compass to guide key performance indicators (upskilling employees, digitalization of businesses and public services, and secure and sustainable digital infrastructures) as well as an annual report on progress, the first of which will be introduced in June. Its plans are lofty, with goals of covering all European households with a Gigabit network and all populated areas with 5G.
So, with the Digital Decade nearly a third over, what challenges stand in the way of meeting the EC’s goals? Perhaps the biggest is at the intersection of the Digital Decade and the Digital Divide. The World Economic Forum reports 70% of EU homes had access to high-speed internet in 2021, but only 37% of homes in rural communities had a high-speed connection. To keep these communities connected in a world where the internet touches all aspects of our lives, it’s time to shift our focus to their needs.
Ramping up fiber installation
Aging copper wire is the culprit of many rural communities’ internet woes. These legacy technologies can’t support the number of employees now working from home, especially if their family tries to use the network at the same time. In addition, copper consumes substantially more energy than fiber optic networks, negatively impacting the EU’s sustainability efforts. But without a concerted effort to lay more fiber optic cable, rural communities will be forced to pay more in rising energy costs to keep pace with larger cities.
The EU is addressing this challenge with significant funding for fiber rollout. In particular, the Cohesion Fund – part of the European Structural and Investment Funds – is designed to help less economically prosperous member states stay connected and will co-finance up to 85% of a broadband project. This is a key area of development ISPs in these communities should focus on in the coming years.
ISPs can also work with manufacturers capable of managing the fiber infrastructure’s “last mile.” While some specialize only in the hardware installed within the home, others can offer end-to-end connectivity, rolling out fiber from the central port to the customer’s home as well as installing hardware throughout the residence to maximize accessibility.
Expanding access outside the home
While pressure is mounting to improve residential connectivity, it’s important to also remember a customer’s need for high-speed internet doesn’t stop at their front door. In dense city centers and remote areas, it can be difficult and even cost-prohibitive to lay fiber. The Digital Decade sets the goal of covering these areas with 5G technology – so we must look at installing technology that amplifies this connectivity wherever fiber cannot go. With better public connectivity, we can ensure all citizens have access to high-speed internet – no matter their living situation, no matter their community’s fiber accessibility.
Moving at high speed together
Europe’s biggest cities and populated areas have made significant progress toward high-speed connectivity over the last decade. But we can’t leave anyone behind, no matter where they live.
If we want to not only meet, but exceed, the Digital Decade goals, we must turn our attention to the digital divide. Whether that’s make inroads toward a sustainable high-speed solution for remote communities, or eliminating dead zones in dense urban areas, the resources are readily available – now we must use them.