The European Commission has published details of a €200 billion Recovery Plan whose aim is to boost jobs, demand and restore confidence in the European Economy. The press release and links for further in depth reading are on europa.eu.
"The fundamental principle of this Plan is solidarity and social justice. In times of hardship, our action must be geared to help those most in need. To work to protect jobs through action on social charges. To immediately address the long-term job prospects of those losing their jobs, through the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund and an accelerated European Social Fund. To cut energy costs for the vulnerable through targeted energy efficiency. To address the needs of those who cannot yet use the internet as a tool to connect."José Manuel Durão Barroso, EU Commission President
Reading the plan it does not take long before the relevance to broadband and the Internet becomes clear. The plan is looking to spend €1 billion on broadband infrastructure projects in 2009/2010. The purpose of this and other spending on energy inter-connects and environmentally friendly transport modes is to cushion the effects of the slow-down on areas like the construction industry.
The lofty aim is to reach 100% coverage of high speed Internet by 2010, with the report stating that "the Commission and Member States should work with stakeholders to develop a broadband strategy to accelerate the up-grading and extension of networks.". This money is not about giving people fibre to the home in the parts of the EU where commercially it was going to happen anyway, but rather the parts of the EU with no broadband or are struggling with slow/intermittent access. In the UK, Northern Ireland already has a 100% broadband coverage commitment, Scotland and Wales are also well advanced with not-spot projects, England though lacks a coherent strategy relying on regional initiatives that are very patchy. Those areas with an existing coherent strategy are likely to be those most likely to receive further help from the EU.
The message is clear, if you are in an area with poor or no broadband access now is the time to chase those with the power to help, such as Regional Development Agencies and your MP or MEP. Hopefully the money will not just end up in the hands of one or two large telecom's firms but may help to sustain smaller firms or community initiatives that are trying to bring their small part of the UK into the 21st century communications wise.
While this announcement is bound to attract criticism, if people take positive action there is scope for the money being used to improve broadband access in areas of the UK. If people let apathy rule and simply assume that no money will come to the UK, then that is precisely what will happen.