One might say that this is a chicken and egg situation: the more wealth that is produced, the higher the likelihood of investments in broadband. However, whenever communities which are not necessarily the wealthiest or most densely populated are provided with very high speed access, opportunities for creativity and business flourish.
With a Gigabit connection you can work in media production, big data analytics or connect with supercomputing facilities, no matter where you are physically located. You may even find that this advanced connectivity greatly reduces or eliminates entirely the need to commute to your workplace. Just imagine the improvement in your quality of life.
Last week we took a major step forward to unlock access to capital for connecting communities. In the presence of Commissioner Günther H. Oettinger, and President Hoyer of the European Investment Bank, the first documents which will enable us to launch the Connecting Europe Broadband Fund was signed.
This new EU broadband infrastructure fund will invest in smaller broadband projects across Europe, essentially targeting less dense areas where high speed connectivity remains scarce. The aim is to reach at least EUR 500 million for investments in broadband projects. The Commission will contribute EUR 100 million to the fund from the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), and will also contribute via the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).
We have been working with the founders of the "Long Term Investors Club", EIB and national promotional banks from Germany, Italy and France (Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti and KfW). I am grateful to our counterparts in these organisations for their hard work and constructive spirit which has led to the start of the Connecting Europe Broadband fund. I hope that more partners will join.
The first closing and operational launch of the fund are scheduled for spring 2017, by which time private investors will have joined public investors to foster the roll-out of very high capacity networks. Projects will be selected by the fund manager with priority given to projects giving people and businesses connectivity of 100 Mbps or more. With a fund size of EUR 500 million, we expect to trigger additional broadband investments of up to EUR 2 billion.
Some might argue that this is a drop in the ocean compared to the several hundred billion euros which the Commission estimates are needed to build a Gigabit society in the EU. I disagree. It is all too easy to talk about the importance of broadband at conferences and meetings; it is more challenging, and more impactful, to do something concrete. For example, the launch of our Connected Communities Initiative in late 2014, revealed the existence of more than 100 small broadband projects across Europe which needed technical assistance as well as financing solutions from the EU. The Connecting Europe Broadband Fund is a possible solution for those communities.
Last week's developments also open door to designing similar investment platforms in which the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and National Promotional Banks can work together with private investors to fuel finance for the digital economy. This is only a first step. EFSI and Connecting Europe Facility allow us to explore further ways of cooperation.
In early 2017, we will explore how this scheme could be replicated or expanded further. In particular, we see the need to modernise quickly the infrastructure needed for data processing in the EU, including high performance computing and cloud and data infrastructures. Another major objective is to equip Europe with 5G infrastructure and services.
I am writing this blog post while on the move on major European highways where large areas have poor or no data coverage. I do not find this acceptable. We need financing to develop highly connected corridors for connected and automated driving. But we must also think of increasing cybersecurity and digitising our health system. If we want to embrace the 4th industrial revolution we will need new smart financing solutions that can efficiently combine public and private funds to trigger major investments in these fields.
Taken in isolation, none of the European and national initiatives can go as far as needed or have sufficient ambition to deliver a cutting edge investment plan in key digital infrastructures. By working together, we can go very far. We have taken a great step forward with the Connecting Europe Broadband Fund and our new partnership with the EIB and CDC, CDP and KfW. I hope that these, and other national promotional banks and institutions, will join us in discussions in 2017 on the next round of digital flagship initiatives.