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CoR wireless technology link-up highlights benefits of broadband for rural communities

Brussels, 28 March 2006

The potential benefits that high-speed broadband access can bring for citizens living in isolated rural areas were powerfully illustrated at the Committee of the Regions yesterday when it hosted a live video link-up with the remote Swedish municipality of Skellefteå, 200 miles south of the Arctic circle.

The link-up, made possible thanks to the wonders of modern wireless technology, was the centerpiece of a presentation by Intel Corporation chairman Craig Barrett during a conference on ‘Bridging the Broadband Gap in the EU regions through a new EU spectrum policy’.

The 200-strong audience, including Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for information society, conference chairman Luciano Caveri, President of Vallée d’Aoste in Italy, plus key players from regional authorities, national regulators and industry experts, looked on as Barrett held a three-minute conversation with SkellefteÃ¥’s trade and industry director, Sture Lestander, at the other end of the line.

Lestander highlighted the importance of broadband for remote areas such as SkellefteÃ¥, saying: “Infrastructure and data communication are crucial for communities like ours. Cost-efficient connectivity and wireless technology are providing the means for increased competitiveness for our companies in the global market.”

CoR member Caveri, whose region recently launched a pilot project bringing broadband access to Ayas, one of its most mountainous areas, was clearly on the same wavelength as the Swede.

“Europe’s regions are best-placed to respond efficiently to the challenges of new generation communication,” he said, describing Aoste itself as “a modern international laboratory for new technologies”.

He explained that antenna-based wireless technology was one of the most practical options for connecting citizens in remote areas because it provides wide coverage – up to 50 kilometres – without the need for laying expensive and unsightly cables.

Commissioner Reding, who launched a communication on bridging the broadband gap earlier this week with Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner, Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes and Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel – “the initiative of the four ladies” as she called it – spelled out the Commission’s goal:

“Broadband for all, wherever you live, wherever you work, wherever is home to you.”

She said the Commission was particularly keen to overcome the “territorial gap” in rural areas, where “speeds tend to be lower and prices higher”.

The Commissioner wanted to see “more flexibility” for spectrum users and additional investment, via the cohesion policy and rural development funding, in order to achieve 100% broadband access across the EU by 2010. She also announced plans to launch a website in 2007 aimed at encouraging best practice in the broadband field.

Craig Barrett welcomed the Commissioner’s remarks and applauded the CoR and Vallée d’Aoste for “forward thinking on connectivity”.

He said wireless technology was about enabling “smart people to create smart ideas” and to compete in the globalised world. “Geographic location is no longer destiny, it no longer predicts whether you will be successful,” he commented.

Creating the right environment for innovation, education and R&D were crucial, said the Intel chief, who had specially arranged for a team of Intel technicians from California and London to set up a broadband antenna on the roof of the CoR headquarters for the link-up with Skellefteå.

Barrett, who will be returning to the CoR on 12 October to take part in the OPEN DAYS European Week of Regions and Cities, identified four key factors for ‘digital inclusion’:

  • Affordability of infrastructure and hardware
  • Availability of local, rich content in language and culture of choice
  • Connectivity to the internet
  • Teaching skills to young people
“Europe must connect to create a digital future,” he concluded.

MEP Gunnar Hökmark (EPP, SE) called for a “common European spectrum policy” instead of “25 different single markets” in order to avoid fragmentation and to boost competition. “Every technology must have the opportunity to develop business solutions and must be able to reach everywhere, ” he argued.

Fellow MEP Catherine Trautmann (PES, FR), Minister for Culture and Communications in the government of Lionel Jospin in 1997-2000, stressed that territorial cohesion should be a factor in allocating spectrum to broadband companies.

“Spectrum policy is vital in the vision of an inclusive society ... we need to abide by the principle of universal coverage,” she insisted, adding that Member States could consider solutions such as a nationwide pooling of prices in order to shift the financial burden from individual regions.

This was a matter for “particular attention for border regions”, such as her own in the Vosges mountains, she said.

The conference was also addressed by Kip Meek, senior policy partner for Ofcom, the regulator for the UK communications industries, who said that an adaptable, market-led approach was the best means of encouraging the spread of high-speed broadband.

For more information, please contact:

Estelle POIDEVIN
Tel. +32 (0)2 282 22 70
Fax +32 (0)2 282 20 85
email: estelle.poidevin@cor.eu.int Dennis ABBOTT
Tel. +32 (0)2 282 20 99
Fax +32 (0)2 282 20 85
email: dennis.abbott@cor.eu.int

Item source: COR/06/29 Date: 28/03/2006

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