Broadband over the mountains

The Local Government Association of the Kozani Region installed a high-speed wireless network and improved e-government, e-democracy and e-business services at a very low cost in a largely mountainous area.

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Context

Western Macedonia (population: 300 000) occupies a geographically isolated position in the northwestern part of Greece, bordering Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). It extends over an area of 9 451 km², with 82% of the territory covered by mountainous and semi-mountainous areas. The region has important natural resources such as energy, minerals, ores (lignite), forests (cover 50% of the total area), pasture lands and several large lakes. Kozani (population: 35 000) is the capital of the region and is also the name of the prefecture.

Developing the infrastructure is key to enabling existing companies to grow and encourage new ones to locate to this region. A huge handicap for the region is the lack of an adequate infrastructure linking its productive centres with the other productive centres of Greece and the EU.

In terms of broadband infrastructure, the overall picture so far has been rather disappointing. As a result, municipalities, citizens and enterprises within the region have all experienced the negative impacts of the digital and broadband gap compared to their National and European counterparts. Meeting the demand for broadband access, by wiring up even the most isolated citizens in the region, was one option to spearhead development.

One of Europe's largest wireless networks

With a budget of just EUR 355 000 (75% from ERDF, 25% from national funds), the Local Government Association (LGA) of Kozani installed the “Bridge Me" network, a broadband wireless network in 2006.

The project aimed to:

- provide broadband access to isolated areas;

- support municipalities delivering broadband services;

- provide public services to citizens in rural areas;

- supply advanced technology for forest fire prevention;

- support automated projects based on IP;

- develop e-learning and e-health projects in cooperation with local stakeholders;

- stimulate innovation and create employment opportunities;

- enhance entrepreneurship by enabling the emergence of new firms based on wireless technology;

- familiarise people in rural areas with Information and Communication Technology (ICT);

- and develop an IP Phone network within public bodies.

The "Bridge Me" network represents one of the widest broadband wireless networks in Europe. Based on Wi-Fi and Wi-Max technologies, it covers wireless links of 472 km in an area of 3 515 km², mainly rural and mountainous. The network has 72 wireless connections with a maximum speed of 108 Mbps at a distance of up to 2 kilometres. The links successfully transfer Voice over IP/video and data in high altitude areas regardless of weather conditions (snow, rain, fog, wind), where temperatures can drop to -28°C.

The "Bridge Me" network allows connections at any place and any time in the Kozani Region where the services are offered. The network’s management system includes innovative functions, such as the use of integrated layer 2-3 routers for forwarding data and has been proven to be fast and robust.

Results

The "Bridge Me" network successfully connects all of the municipalities in the Kozani region as well as 200 local government bodies. It has led to the introduction of a whole range of new and improved e-government, e-democracy and e-business services (e.g. e-payments, e-voting at local elections, requests for official documents, job seeking, forest fire prevention, wireless fleet management, etc.).

In so doing, the project has contributed to the goals of the regional strategy which include: improving the effectiveness of the public sector; balanced and sustainable territorial development; improvement of entrepreneurship; improving citizens’ access to ICT; human resources development and innovation.
The "Bridge Me" network has provided new opportunities for local SMEs to compete: networking with other firms has enabled them to strengthen their market positions.

The public service sector is an area where the "Bridge Me" network offers limitless possibilities. On the one hand local authorities can provide a range of information about their services, while on the other, online two-way communications are made available to citizens. In many cases the network improves the quality of the service, particularly in small communities located in rural and isolated areas. It also saves time and travel costs.

The "Bridge Me" network has enabled the delivery of so called “back offices” services via the Internet regardless of where the service provider is located. Communication costs have been reduced and the project has contributed to a rise of IT users in the region.

Draft date

01/06/2007