Brussels, 15 Jul 2005
More people will be logging on to the Internet using wireless broadband connections, thanks to a decision by the Commission on 14 July to dedicate a substantial amount of radio spectrum throughout the EU to radio local area networks, otherwise known as Wi-Fi.
Underlining the priority it gives to promoting broadband Internet access - a vital component of the i2010 initiative - the Commission has also launched a public consultation on the policy measures required to extend broadband coverage to Europe's underserved rural areas.
The decision to make two specific frequency bands (5150-5350 MHz and 5470-5725 MHz) available for Wi-Fi access in all Member States clears the way for a single market in wireless access systems. Common EU rules will reduce the cost of equipment and facilitate the uptake of wireless systems for both public and private access.
'High-speed electronic communication networks are essential to Europe's competitiveness. A supportive regulatory environment is a key factor in their take-up,' said Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding. 'Today's Commission decision will help industry to create innovative services, such as wireless voice over IP, for a single European market.'
According to some projections, today's 120 million Wi-Fi users worldwide (with 25 million of those in Western Europe) could grow to 500 million in just three years, putting Wi-Fi in the same league as mobile phones in terms of consumer appeal.
Meanwhile, the public consultation launched by the Commission on 14 July invites stakeholders, Member States and local and regional authorities to contribute their views on how to address the continued 'digital divide' within Europe.
In January 2005, broadband Internet access was available to 90 per cent of the urban population of the EU15 and European Economic Area, but to only 62 per cent of rural inhabitants.
The Commission provided background analysis of the issue in a staff working paper entitled 'Broadband access and public support in under-served areas'. The document outlines the pros and cons of government initiatives to extend broadband coverage and provides examples of publicly funded initiatives. The working paper concludes that although commercial forces will drive further broadband deployment, some areas of the EU are likely to suffer delayed coverage or be excluded from the roll-out of broadband networks altogether.
'I invite the Governments of Member States experiencing a digital divide to act now, in close coordination with the European Commission, so that all households and businesses that need and want broadband access to the web can obtain it as soon as possible,' said Commissioner Reding.
For further information on the radio spectrum, please consult the following web address:
http: //europa.eu.int/information_society /policy/radio_spectrum/index_en.htm
To contribute to the consultation on the digital divide, please visit:
http:///europa.eu.int/information_society /eeurope/i2010/digital_divide/index_en.h tm