Bridging the Digital Divide in the EU

The European Union is a coalition of 28 countries across Europe, in which people, capital, and commodities can move freely between member states. Mar Negreiro writes a fact filled analysis, “Bridging the Digital Divide in the EU” for the European Parliamentary Research Service. The traditional definition of the ‘digital divide’ is the gap between those who have access to internet, and those who do not. This is typically seen as a rural-urban divide; however, it is becoming more apparent that this divide is more than meets the eye. A second gap comes to light as more people gain access: the ability to fully use the internet. The Digital Agenda for Europe, a, initiative by the European Commission, had 3 goals for the Union. To bring ‘basic broadband’ to all Europeans by 2013, ‘fast broadband’ by 2020, and ‘ultra-fast broadband’ to at least half European households by 2020. The first goal, basic broad band to all Europeans was met on time for its 2013 deadline. However, despite having access to this fixed broadband, 30% of homes have not subscribed. This is due to lack of skills, and equipment or access being too expensive for some households. Negreiro states that “it is clear that wide disparities remain in the EU mainly along a North-South divide” (3) when discussing the broadband take-up progress. Fast and ultra-fast broadband pick up has not been as promising though, as only 68% of the EU has access to fast broadband (mostly in urban areas). Only 9% has access to ultra-fast broadband, which is even more seemingly unlikely to reach the 50% deadline by 2020. The Digital Agenda for Europe also has hopes to increase regular internet use to 75% from 60%, and to 60% from 41% in underprivileged citizens. It also seeks to halve the population who has never used the internet. All three goals were met. The regular internet use was 75% in 2014, and the non-users more than halved at 18% (from 43%). Disadvantaged users were 60% in 2014. Interestingly, Negreiro explained that this disadvantaged division may not be based on a socio-economic rift as many digital divide theories suggest. He states that the “Digital Divide on internet use is largely driven by age and education levels” (4). This ties into the disparity between North and South; Nordic elderly have used the internet whereas many elders in southern countries have not. At the Union’s level, many policies have been put in place through three types of programs: funding, instruments and regulation/ stakeholder engagement.

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