On behalf of the Commission Anna Krzyzanowska (Head of Broadband Unit, DG CONNECT) welcomed the participants and explained the scope of the conference. It started with keynote speeches by Commissioner Gunther H. Oettinger (Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society), Markku Markkula (President of the Committee of the Regions), Anthony Whelan, (Director for Electronic Communications, Networks and Services, DG CONNECT) and Normunds Popens (Deputy Director-General for Implementation, Directorate General Regional and Urban Policy, DG REGIO).
The conference continued with a first roundtable on regulation and investment, led by Goran Marby (Director-General of the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority - PTS). Henri Piganeau (Managing Partner, CUBE - Infrastructure Fund) expressed his opinion that regulation can clearly be an enabler to increase connectivity. Ms Karin Ahl (RALA Infratech) stated that there are three main criteria for successful FTTH deployment: clear deployment target, appropriate incentives for investment by all operators and cost reduction. Vesa Terava (Head of Regulatory Coordination and Users Unit, DG CONNECT) emphasized the need to reflect how to increase investment in high capacity connectivity and whether the current framework is fit for purpose. Agustin Diaz-Pines (Policy Officer DG COMP) underlined the various areas where regulation is needed and listed measures that can be taken to ensure to foster infrastructure. He emphasised that there is no fit for all solution and that a combination of symmetrical measures plus targeted subsidies in rural areas could provide the answer to investment needs.
The following roundtable, which was moderated by Antoine Darodes (Head of the French Agency for Digital Affairs), concentrated on resources of grants and financial instruments. Gwenola Chambon (Head of Infrastructure Funds, MIROVA Environment and Infrastructure) stated the difficult situation of broadband connectivity in rural areas not being interesting for most investors (market failure). There is need to aggregate small projects in order to ensure the necessary scale for financing, she continued. Hervé Dupuy (Deputy Head of Broadband Unit, DG CONNECT) introduced an overview of available financing instruments at European level such as ESIF, EFSI and CEF. Harald Gruber (Head of Division Digital Economy and Education Projects Directorate, EIB) presented the role of the EIB in this process. Daniel Heery (Project Manager, Cybermoor Networks) underlined the fact that small projects do not attract financial, technical and commercial partners but suggested crowdfunding as a solution he has positive experiences with.
The third roundtable led by Eric Mamer (Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commissioner G.H. Oettinger) looked at how policies can make a difference while facing the known deployment issues. Miapetra Kumpula-Natri (MEP) emphasized Finland’s initiative with clear political targets which ensure full coverage despite the fact that many areas to be covered are sparsely populated and therefore without a viable business prospect. Eva Paunova (MEP) urged measures to be taken in the near future as the impact of the Digital Single Market on society comes at a large scale, from education to entrepreneurship, and encourages the job creation. Antoine Darodes (Head of the French Agency for Digital Affairs) stressed four important aspects which need to be taken into account when implementing a successful digital plan: planning/organization, stability in terms of regulations and prices, scale, and simplification. Ola Bergström (International Affairs Coordination Office of the Director General Swedish Post and Telecom Authority, PTS) justified Sweden’s success in connectivity through a high demand structure as well as an infrastructure business model at low risk, low profit utilities, which nearly works automatically.
Anna Krzyzanowska guided through the last roundtable picking up broadband as a key enabler for growth and innovation as a central theme. Mathew Scott (Manager of the Pan-European Network GEANT) defined the network as a European cooperative of national research and education. Alex Maniatopoulos (CEO Yodiwo) highlighted the importance of the Internet of Things and machine to machine communications which produces a great amount of data. Yodiwo is a cloud services and platform services provider specializing in visual code and analytics. Andrea Weiss (Managing Director Eurocloud Europe) emphasized the close relationship of cloud business and broadband connectivity. One needs to properly understand the data flow (data centres, cloud) and move beyond the big data concept to smart data. Alessandro Coda (Acting Director and Research Coordinator, European Council for Automotive R&D – EUCAR) mentioned the biggest "spender" in R&D being the automotive industry as they are looking into a future with connected cars.
Another highlight of the conference was the presentation of the European Broadband Award winners. The aim of the Broadband Awards Competition is to identify best practices for the planning, management and implementation of projects for high-speed broadband networks – so-called Next Generation Networks (NGN) in Europe. The winners of this year's competition were:
- The winner of category 1: Innovative models of financing/business/investment is guifi.net Foundation, Vic, Catalonia, Spain.
- Winner of category 2: Cost reduction and co-investment is NGA Cluster Nordhessen ,
- Germany. RAIN-2 (Rural Area Information Technology Broadband Network Development), Lithuania convinced the jury and is winning category 3: Socio-economic impact and affordability.
- Winner in category 4: Openness and Competition is CAI Harderwijk open network, The Netherlands.
- AB Stokab, Stockholm, Sweden won in category 5: Future proof and quality of service.
The crowdsourcing session “How to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas?” led by Carl-Christian Buhr (Member of Cabinet of Commissioner Ph. Hogan) discussed ideas which were submitted in order to answer the question of bringing high speed broadband to rural areas. The ideas presented by J.D. Malot, M. Matson, L. Navarro, S. Scarbrough, J. Theiss and G. Zivec, were further elaborated and then put into live online voting. The results of the voting point to the fact that open access, infrastructure access and cooperation are key issues when it comes to bringing high-speed broadband to rural areas.
Roberto Viola’s (Director General for Communication Networks, Content and Technology – DG CONNECT) closing keynote speech looked at 2020 and beyond by reporting on the day and looking at future activities. He underlined the multidimensional nature of the issue at hand, i.e. the need to provide efficient broadband to everyone everywhere.
Commissioner Philip Hogan, (Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development) closed the conference by referring to the important role of the Common Agricultural Policy in bridging the digital (connectivity) gap. Rural areas, when properly connect, can and will play an important role in the economy.