EU thundering down information superhighway

Broadband roll-out on target for 2005, says EC report

Broadband roll-out across the EU is progressing nicely and is on course to meet its 2005 targets.

That's according to a mid-term progress report on the eEurope 2005 Action Plan issued by the European Commission. Broadband is one of seven areas, including e-learning, e-commerce and e-health, dealt with in the action plan, which aims for a coherent approach to getting Europe’s public services online.

Projects like TWISTER have undoubtedly helped, and, in the UK at least, the rollout of broadband services has helped the providers post some healthier looking numbers.

Member states have also made good progress in getting public services online, the report says. It notes that the proportion of basic government services fully available online rose from 17 per cent to 43 per cent between October 2001 and October 2003.

But distribution of technology is not the only challenge. For example, the report found that while almost all schools and education and training centres across Europe are now online, there is still work to be done in making sure teachers are adequately trained.

Furthermore, e-government must now move beyond passive information collection to a system that allows users to interact electronically with public authorities - a recommendation broadly in line with a leaked proposal given to the UK government.

The next obvious question is: are the public services any better?

"Most public services are needed by the 'excluded' section of the population, and by definition, very few of them are broadband-equipped," says long-time ICT industry observer, Guy Kewney. "Even among the non-excluded, broadband awareness is still a minority."

He argues that the real problem is that the quality of staff in local government remains very low, with many of them being temporary workers.

The EC report also acknowledges the risk of creating a digital divide, and says a clearer picture of regional differences is needed, as well as consideration of how different technological solutions, such as digital TV and 3G mobile, could be deployed along with ICT training to minimise this risk.

The full report is available here. ®

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