As local and regional public authorities representing rural Europe we recognise the vital importance of access to affordable high speed broadband for our citizens, businesses and society. We are all committed to making the investments and developing the services that will create the 2020 infrastructure of the digital age and that will meet the long-term needs of our citizens, economies and societies.
First generation broadband has had a profound effect on our lives, our work patterns and in shaping our society; changing the way people, public services and business collaborate with each other. First generation broadband services are being replaced by higher capacity, faster networks, and as we move towards these next generation broadband services it is vitally important that rural areas are not left behind. We need the development of new digital infrastructure as much as metropolitan Europe.
This is the infrastructure on which knowledge business prosperity, the future livelihoods, the public services and the community life of many of our citizens will be based. This requires a co-ordinated policy at regional, national and European level and it requires public authorities and the private sector to act in real partnership, applying investment and skills to meet the needs of all our citizens, economy and society into the future.
The public authorities in the ENGAGE project have significant experience and have become experts in the relationship between digital infrastructure and the needs of their citizens and enterprises. We are running innovative projects to deliver connectivity to every community in rural and peripheral areas. As a group with strong local political support we are in a unique position to debate and identify the needs of rural areas in the field of High Speed Broadband.
To achieve our aims it is crucial that we develop common strategies, encourage political cooperation and solidarity between Europe's rural communities in order to close this large and avoidable gap in High Speed Broadband services between metropolitan and rural areas. ENGAGE partners have identified the following key points which we believe are essential steps to ensuring digital agenda targets are met in Rural Europe.
1. Digital Infrastructure for European Competitiveness
Europe needs a digital infrastructure that enables all member states and regions to compete effectively with other regions of the world. This is recognised in the Digital Agenda 2020 targets, which ENGAGE members support. ENGAGE members believe that the Digital Agenda targets should be improved by stating: “50% or more of European households subscribing to Internet connections above 100Mbits” to “50% or more of both urban and rural house- holds in Europe subscribing to Internet connections above 100Mbits”.
2. High Speed Broadband is an Essential Utility
Rural areas make a significant contribution to the economic and social well-being of the European Union and should not be left out of the digital revolution. Like electricity or roads, high-speed broadband is fundamental for Europe’s development; digital Agenda targets must be applied to all of Europe, urban and rural.
3. Financial instruments
The European Commission should support the development of common financing mechanisms, alongside technical and operational standards that can facilitate investment and speed up delivery.
4. Public Investment Plays a Vital Role
Active public investment or subsidy already plays a significant role in getting high-speed broadband services into rural areas. Regional, national and European institutions must recognise the importance of local authorities in financially supporting the delivery of high speed broadband, in demand stimulation and in the development of new digital services for the citizens.
5. Open Access Networks are the Way Forward
ENGAGE members recognize that projects led by the public sector, private sector operatorled projects and bottom up initiatives all have an important role to play in getting new digital infrastructure into rural areas. ENGAGE members consider that open access networks offer the best opportunities for competitive business and consumer services. Therefore preference in public investment should be given to new networks that offer open access down to the lowest levels of the network, including both active and passive elements.
6. Regulate to Support Equity Between Urban and Rural Areas
In many cases HSB networks are financed and often built by local authorities and made available to wholesale opera- tors under joint investment or lease arrangements on open access principles. The regulatory regime must take into account the specific nature of the rural market in order to guarantee a competition environment equivalent to that found in urban areas in terms of service competition, consumer choice and prices.
7. Fibre First
High speed broadband should be delivered principally by fibre connections to communities, businesses and homes being the only long term sustainable infrastructure. Wireless services are important for mobility but they should not substitute for fibre-based services.
8. Manage the Transition from Copper to Fibre
ENGAGE members believe that ultimately Europe will move from copper to fibre based fixed line networks. It is impor- tant for national authorities and regulators to set in motion planning for a managed switch over, thus giving certainty to existing networks, new entrants and other investors.
9. The Role of Local Authorities Should be Strengthened
Regional and local authorities have an important role to play in facilitating new network delivery as major users of new networks and potential anchor tenants; through co-ordinating streetworks, actively encouraging sharing of passive infrastructure, and through rights of way. Guidance and best practice needs to be made available and shared with all rural regions. Their role should be strengthened by:
- Develop and implement partnership models that suit their local context
- Build the necessary public-private-community partnerships
- Provide financial, engineering and planning expertise and support to communities
- Facilitate shared access to public routes and infrastructure
- Lead the identification and realisation of public cost savings and increased private investment that HSB deployment can bring
- Promote the development and implementation of regional strategies on broadband integrated with Smart Specialization Strategies.
10. Knowledge Transfer, Piloting and Applied Research
The EU Territorial Cooperation Programme and Horizon 2020 should encourage projects that actively support more bottom-up approaches to broadband deployment including transfer of knowhow, transnational pilots and new deployment models.
The European Commission should support the creation of an ‘observatory’ that can assess, monitor and report on the development of high-speed broadband services in rural regions, measuring and comparing actions, investments and midterm results. The observatory will also share best practice on funding, projects and models that can facilitate the introduction of new digital networks and services. It will act :
- As a conduit for collection and transfer of Partnership HSB implementations between regions
- Assist communities to organise HSB projects
- Estimate and develop demand
- Resource for developing and diffusing tools
- Focus for organising expertise
As representatives of the public authorities participating in the ENGAGE Project we have signed this declaration to affirm our commitment to establishing a digital infrastructure in Rural Europe that meets the ambitions and needs of its citizens, businesses, and public authorities.
We have the determination and the know-how to meet the challenge of building the digital infrastructure & economy on which future prosperity will be built. Rural Europe has a fundamental right to be an equal player in the digital revolution.
We call on you to join us
Manifesto launched at Kauhajoki, Finland 11 September 2013
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