SABER calls for action on ‘European Digital Divide’

derosen-eutelsatThe SABER Project has called upon the members of the EU and their regional governments to implement co-ordinated Regional Voucher Schemes to encourage awareness and take-up of satellite broadband solutions to cut the Digital Divide across Europe’s most rural regions. According to June 2014 Digital Agenda Scoreboard up to 6 million EU houses are still without access to fixed broadband services, despite satellite broadband availability in all EU countries. Voucher Schemes are administered by regional authorities and use publicly available funds to underwrite the hardware and/or installation costs of broadband solutions.

The rallying call to action was made at the final conference of the two-year SABER Project, an EU-funded Thematic Network. At the Brussels conference titled “Broadband for European Regions, from availability to penetration: the satellite contribution”, SABER brought together representatives from 21 European regional authorities, satellite experts and key influencers to examine how to accelerate broadband adoption in rural areas.

“The SABER membership has achieved much in a relatively short space of time by helping to raise awareness of the capabilities of satellite broadband to immediately bridge the European Digital Divide and to share knowledge of good practices, and this to the benefit of the European regions: an excellent starting point for future implementation” said Davide Zappalà, President of CSI-Piemonte.

“Satellite broadband is a practical and viable solution today. However there are still two major barriers in the EU to the faster adoption of this technology. The first is the inadequacy of the European Union policy to drive awareness, acceptance and adoption of satellite technology, which was successfully achieved in North America and Australia. The second is the fragmented management of public funds to address the issue between the European Commission, the Member-States and the regions,” added Michel de Rosen (pictured), Chairman of ESOA, speaking on behalf of satellite operators.

The conference suggested the adoption of a Voucher Scheme with an EU or national framework to work as an overarching programme with regional implementation, administration and delivery. This “Think global, act local” approach would be more effective in raising awareness of the satellite broadband solution and more efficient to administer.

Voucher schemes, such as those in Galicia in Spain, Piedmont in Italy and Eure-et-Loir in France, have already proven effective at overcoming the barriers of upfront hardware and connection costs and the challenges of how to deploy public funds effectively. With these schemes, residents in Digital Divide areas are entitled to a voucher covering the cost of the satellite technology and/or installation. This voucher can be used with a range of competitive suppliers, ensuring market competition. In relation to the voucher scheme, SABER called for the EU to promote the eligibility of satellite terminals and services to European Regional Development Fund, in particular through the formal confirmation that solutions with predicted path towards 30 Mbps by 2020 are entitled to public support.

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