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Single Digital Market must tackle Europe's digital divide to unleash a revolution

The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has argued that while plans to create a Single Digital Market set the right direction, it does little to tackle Europe's digital divide. The proposals ignore the importance of local and regional governments in delivering broadband infrastructure as well as their role in e-government and boosting big data to improve public and private services. The CoR calls for more concrete ideas and initiatives for new investment and warned that it is not ambitious enough in addressing regulatory fragmentation among Member States.

Markku Markkula, the CoRs' President, recognised that the package unveiled by the European Commission could create a digitalised economy creating much needed jobs. Reducing digital barriers and creating a Single Digital Market can allow local economies to connect to the European market, open up new opportunities for start-ups and boost growth. However, the proposals do not provide new answers to the challenges faced by rural and more isolated regions in the digital market.

"The Single Digital Market has all the right ideas – breaking down barriers and improving consumer access to online goods will create jobs and tackle unemployment. We need to speed up this development. Yet ignoring the territorial dimension risks exasperating already existing divisions in internet access. Since we want a real digital revolution, tackling disparities should be top of the agenda."

President Markkula acknowledges that the new Investment Plan for Europe - which will to use EU funds to attract €315bn in investment - could bridge the digital divide but warned that investment should not only be attracted to big projects in already prosperous regions, "The ICT sector can stimulate regional growth which is why we need complete the Digital Single Market. But the market cannot go it alone. We need to digitise the economy whilst driving forward e-government solutions in the public sector and we need to encourage public-private-people participation. Local and regional governments have a responsibility to help stir innovation and attract new investment – a point which the proposals have ignored".

Chair of the CoRs' SEDEC Commission and Mayor of Ovanåker in Sweden, Yoomi Renström (PES), added that the Digital Single Market should offer concrete proposals to ensure it is affordable and accessible to all, “We need to know how much public funding is needed and where it will come from to reach the EU 2020 targets which set nationwide broadband coverage above 30 Mbps and 50% of the EU having over 100 Mbps. This is crucial for EU local and regional authorities which play a key role in ensuring equal and affordable broadband access in areas where the market fails. To address territorial disparities in digital uptake, we need digital development projects in rural and sparsely populated areas to be recognised as services of general economic interest. Without taking such bold steps, the digital revolution will remain limited”.

The Committee of the Regions is producing a formal position on the proposals led by Helma Kuhn-Theis (EPP) from Germany's Weiskirchen Municipal Council.


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