During the pandemic, we all turned – to some extent – to digital. Confinement boosted teleconsultations. Businesses found new ways to collaborate with employees and reach customers. Teachers explored platforms to engage with their scattered classrooms. Through our screens, we shared laughs and extended comfort.
Network connectivity is the foundation of the digital landscape. 20% of NextGenerationEU, the EU’s recovery package, should be in invested in digital. It keeps us together. We need to strengthen that foundation today, for the upcoming Digital Decade.
“Network connectivity is the foundation of the digital landscape”
Investment in better networks and wider network coverage slowed down during the pandemic. If we want to stay ahead in the digital transformation, it is due time to revive our efforts on connectivity and head fully into enabling the future.
Indeed, improved broadband connectivity means a more inclusive, resilient and innovative Europe. People will have smoother services to learn digital skills and gain access to more jobs and flexible working conditions. It will allow us to connect more objects and process more data to understand better our energy consumption and cut emissions in other sectors by 15%.
Our European competitiveness will be reinforced via wider 5G coverage. The ability to process information in real time will open doors to innovations across industries. Connecting main ports, roads and waterways with 5G, means more efficient, more precise and most importantly - safer and remote operations. Innovative trial projects to enable 5G services in European industry are already taking place.
“Connectivity is also a guarantee for equal opportunities”
Broadband connection is a prerequisite for home working, learning, accessing online health services and running a business effectively. While many of us already enjoy these privileges, connectivity is also a guarantee for equal opportunities. It can bring the same convenient services to rural areas. As President Ursula von der Leyen highlighted in the State of the Union speech, a connected rural Europe means a revitalised one, attracting more people and investment.
Rural areas can harness the full potential of better connectivity to employ the next generation of technologies. It can help farmers manage crops and animals in a cost and environmentally friendly way. Soon it should be history, that 40% of people in rural areas do not have access to fast broadband connections.
Through the pandemic and still now, digital supports long distance healthcare, protecting doctors and patients. 5G can advance medicine, energy, transport, security –all trans-European networks that are a part of our life. I repeat – these technological developments can bring major benefits to our lives and we have the expertise to use them.
If we want to unlock these potentials, we have to pick up the pace of 5G and fibre network rollout. Today, the Commission invites Member States to accelerate network rollout as part of their recovery plans and asks them to work on a toolbox of best practices. They should pinpoint best practices to reduce the cost of network rollout and quickly proceed with spectrum authorisation.
We need to have compatibility. There cannot be connection drops when you cross borders; it is not acceptable within the EU. We need harmonisation, and we need to equip ourselves with this toolbox. The strength of these initiatives is that everyone comes around the table and defines together what we need. That is the important aspect for the accomplishment of the single market and the associated services.
The Commission provides guidance on how to achieve this. Administrative procedures for network installation permits should be simpler. Existing public structures, such as buildings, street lamps, bus stops, electrical posts and ducts should serve for network installation as well. Member States should hurry in assigning 5G pioneer bands in a way that encourages telecoms to keep investing.
“Together we are strong. Connected we are resilient and autonomous”
We share the vibrant vision of a digitally empowered Europe. Together we are strong. Connected we are resilient and autonomous. Let us check in with each other to identify the best path to get there. Europe must now lead the way on digital, including on its safe and reliable infrastructure.