The renewed Lisbon Strategy aims to build a cohesive Europe, one where the opportunities and benefits of a modern knowledge-based economy and society are open to all citizens, no matter where they live. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are central to this agenda.
The wider uptake of ICT across the EU is a major lever for improving both the productivity and the competitiveness of regions, breathing new life into existing production methods and encouraging new businesses to emerge. ICT also generate positive side effects in the economy through learning-by-doing, faster transfer of know-how and increased transparency. These aspects are at the heart of the synergy between the action plan of the i2010 policy initiative – A European Information Society for Growth and Jobs – and the new regional policy for 2007-2013, that will support these goals.
While ICT help in overcoming existing regional disparities, there is also a risk of a 'digital divide' between those that have access to the technologies – and the services they offer – and those that do not. Broadband internet connections are essential for eBusiness and a vibrant economy. Competition and open markets are certainly the best drivers of broadband in the EU. However, broadband connections must not be limited to large cities or wealthier regions and countries. Bridging this broadband gap is an i2010 priority. It commits to mobilising all policy instruments – EU telecoms legislation, regional policy and the Rural Development Fund – to bring high-speed internet access to all citizens throughout Europe.
Where there are genuine market failures, the EU regional policy plays a vital role in stimulating investments in broadband infrastructure and services, boosting competitiveness and innovation, and enabling all regions and cities of Europe to participate fully in the knowledge economy. ICT, including broadband, are also being supported under the Rural Development Fund. Regions are being urged to use all these programmes to tap the potential of broadband in their sustainable development strategies.