Europe wants more broadband

European Commission officials have called for greater high-speed Internet coverage across the continent to spur job growth, especially in rural and remote areas.

Although telecommunications companies are opening up their markets to broadband suppliers, European Union officials said less demand for such service outside urban centers could delay broadband development in those areas. That's when the government needs to step in and spur such growth, they said.

EU officials recommended public/private partnerships, including a mix of EU and local funding, as the best route to development of high-speed networks in remote areas.

The European Commission proposed two initiatives. One is to strengthen national broadband strategies that would take into account goals and regional needs and make use of EU and state funding. The other is to have public- and private-sector officials share best practices and other data, possibly via a Web site.

The commission plans to hold a broadband conference early next year to promote the benefits of high-speed Internet access in rural areas.

Only about 13 percent of Europeans, or about 25 percent of households, had broadband connections at the end of 2005, according to an EU press release.

There is a great disparity between urban and rural areas in terms of service. Broadband is available to about 60 percent of businesses and households in remote and rural areas, whereas coverage in urban areas is about 90 percent. Similarly, average transmission speeds are 512 kilobits/sec in rural areas, compared with average speeds greater than 1 megabit/sec in metropolitan areas.

“If the EU and its 25 member states make a clever use of all policy instruments, broadband for all Europeans is certainly not out of reach by 2010,” Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for information society and media, said in a statement.

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