For the first time, information and communications technology (ICT) actors and stakeholders gather in Brussels for a two-day conference on the strategic use of ICT to support regional and local development. Leading speakers from all over the world discuss how ICT and broadband (fast Internet access) can boost and diversify economic activity. The conference is accompanied by an exhibition of 50 outstanding examples of ongoing broadband activities in Europe, with prizes awarded to the top three.

"There has been significant progress in broadband take-up and coverage in the past year in Europe: there are 80 million broadband subscribers, and broadband is available to almost 90% of Europe's population," said Viviane Reding, praising all those regions that have made ICT policy a priority. "Still, there is no room for complacency. By the end of the decade I want every European to be able to access advanced broadband services. I also want to see better broadband capacity in both urban and rural areas. This is critical for innovation in next generation services to continue and for the competitiveness of the European economy."

The conference follows up on the Commission's 2006 Bridging the Broadband Gap Communication (see IP/06/340) and launches the exchange of best practices as an important tool for closing the gap in the disadvantaged regions of Europe.

The Exhibition showcases projects from across Europe that are bridging the broadband gap. The projects were selected via a Call for Exhibits among the 163 projects received. Conference participants are able to vote for the best projects. The best Exhibits will win the Best European Broadband project for 2007 during the event.

Progress in broadband coverage across Europe in the past year is due to a combination of commercial and public efforts. However, several rural areas still need further investment, as high deployment costs and weak demand means that 30% of the rural population does not have access to broadband. Rural broadband speeds are often lower too, which makes it difficult to carry the large volumes of data needed for rich applications and services particularly suited to these areas. Support at all governmental levels is required to extend broadband’s reach and to encourage ICT adoption. Action must continue to support demand as at present only 17% of the European population have opted for a broadband subscription.

Conference website