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Rural Development policy 2007-2013

Better access for rural areas to modern Information and Communication Technologies

03/03/2009 - Connecting the 30% of the EU's rural population that has no high speed internet access should be a priority for achieving 'broadband for all' by 2010. Improved internet connectivity is a powerful tool to stimulate swift economic recovery. The Commission today outlined how it would use its own support programmes to boost internet networks and services in rural areas, and called on EU Member States to do the same.

Good internet access can make farms and companies in rural areas, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), less isolated and more competitive through access to international markets and faster and more efficient ways of doing business.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament and the Council are discussing a Commission proposal to make a further € 1 billion available through the European Economic Recovery Plan to spread high speed internet access more widely across all regions of Europe.

While an average 93% of Europeans can enjoy access to a high speed online connection, the figure is only 70% in rural areas, and in some countries (such as Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania) high speed broadband internet networks cover just 50% or less of the rural population.

Table: Broadband coverage of population, December 2007 [png]

Graph: % of total territory covered by fixed broadband, December 2007 [png]

The Commission Communication "Better access for rural areas to modern ICT" [pdf] and the accompanying working document [pdf] outline the benefits which better access of rural areas to modern Information and Communication Technologies like the internet can bring to businesses and individuals in rural areas, like farms and food producers.

For instance, 80% of Swedish farms already have access to the internet, and a third of them use the internet daily (a third also use the internet to submit applications for EU support). However, in other regions such as Tuscany (Italy) and Hungary, only a quarter of farmers use the internet. This makes it harder for these farmers to (just to give some examples):

  • plan production,
  • market products and access prices in international markets,
  • check weather forecasts or
  • establish cooperation agreements with other market players.

Farmers are not the only ones missing out: across Europe, only 22.5% of people in rural areas use e-government services like lodging tax returns, compared to 32.9% in urban areas.

The Commission therefore calls on Member States and regions (including local authorities) to consider adapting their rural development programmes to place adequate emphasis on information and communication technologies and on internet connectivity, especially within the mid-term review of their rural development plans due in 2010.


The EU addresses the EU's "internet broadband gap" between urban and rural areas through rural development policy – which forms part of the Common Agricultural Policy. Member States and regions can spend EU funding for modernising, through the use of new technologies, farms, training, caring for the environment, setting up new businesses and basic services in rural areas.

In addition, about €15 billion is being spent on information and communication technologies priorities under the EU's Cohesion Policy for 2007-2013 – on e-public services and internet infrastructure, for example. Some of this will be spent in rural areas.

On 28 January 2008, the Commission, in line with the European Council conclusions of December 2008, proposed to earmark €1 billion of extra spending for investment in broadband as part of its proposed European Economic Recovery Plan, with the goal of achieving 100% high speed broadband internet coverage for Europe.

As a complement to today's Communication on better access for rural areas to modern information and communication technologies, the Commission is organising an EU conference on broadband in Turin (Italy) on 2-3 April 2009. The event will bring together the Commission, national and regional authorities and other interested parties to discuss the increased EU investment in broadband under the EU recovery plan and the policies that will help achieve 100% broadband coverage in rural areas.




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Last update: 03-03-2009