The South West Regional Authority, in association with the EU Committee of the Regions, has hosted a major international conference on "Knowledge Based Regions in the Information Society - the Role of Broadband Technology in Securing a Vibrant eSociety" in Killarney/Ireland on April 5th and 6th.
The high-profile event on the EU Presidency Calendar was connected to the ESA-funded South West Broadband Project, that looks at the potential and usability of alternative technology for providing broadband connectivity to rural areas. An issue that is of huge concern in many parts of Ireland and throughout the EU.
"Broadband is an infrastructure that can empower and revitalise rural communities, and Government policy should not be contributing to reinforcing a digital divide that commercial market operators have helped create," stated the Irish Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern, at the beginning of the conference. "Since becoming minister I have consistently held that the key ingredients for success in broadband are the 'three Cs' of cost, choice and competition."
Claudio Mastracci, Director of EU and Industrial Programmes at the European Space Agency, emphasized the importance of space technology in bridging the digital divide: "Satellites surely can offer cost effective and efficient solutions. Thanks to the interesting projects done jointly with ESA this can already be experienced in rural areas of Ireland."
Fulvio Sansone, Secretary-General of the European Satellite Operator Association (ESOA) highlighted that satellite broadband is already a reality in Europe for SMEs and corporate entities. However main barriers to satellite broadband deployment are delays and uncertainties concerning regulations, the high costs for the consumer and the fact that satellite broadband is not always known by the user.
The conference, that was opened by Annette McNamara, Chair of CoR's Commission for Culture and Educations, brought together some 300 delegates, including Michael G.Tutty, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, Mike Buhagiar, ESAT BT or Jean-Bernhard Benhaiem of Directorate-General Regio, European Commission. The varied speakers presented different ways of providing access to affordable, reliable and sustainable broadband connectivity in the light of new applications, hardware and user types.
The digital divide has been considered in the White Paper on European space policy as a major priority with the key questions: How can space contribute to solving this problem? Space solutions can respond to needs on areas with obsolete or no communication ground infrastructure. They provide services beyond national borders. The European Space Agency is currently analysing the costs and benefits of these solutions. Preparatory activities are to be initiated mid 2004 for a programme proposal to be decided at the ESA Ministerial Conference mid 2005.