European broadband at a crossroads – Kroes

EU's Digital Agenda commissioner admits business case for rural network investment still shaky.

The European Union's digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes took to the stage on the opening day of this year's Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam to call on policy makers to spur network investment as a matter of urgency.

"We are at a crossroads," she said. "Take the right turn, and we will see the benefit for years to come. Take the wrong turn, and future generations will curse our missed opportunity."

Kroes warned that Europe is slipping behind other regions in terms of broadband availability, which if left unchecked will have dire economic consequences as more and more business is conducted online.

"In 2020, when an international business looks at where to put itself, it is going to look at digital societies with high-speed broadband," she said, the implication being that Europe may find itself without the infrastructure needed to attract high-flying multinationals.

"Be aware that your competitive position is not forever carved in stone," Kroes continued. "We have the talent, and we have the research capability, but we still need to fill in the gaps to make a digital single market."

Kroes earlier in October called on telcos to help lobby for the release of €9.2 billion from the EU's Connecting Europe Facility, which could go towards broadband infrastructure deployment in underserved areas.

However, even with public funding, rollout targets at both national and EU-level, and demand for broadband from end users, Kroes admitted that building a business case for investing in rural networks , particularly fibre, "is still shaky".

"Where you can't expect to put fibre, other technologies should be used," she said.

However, when questioned about whether speed or availability should be the priority for broadband strategists, her message was clear: just any Internet connection will not suffice; it has to be broadband.

"It's essential to our future….we are far from hitting the Internet's innovation potential," Kroes said. Realising that potential requires a broadband connection

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