One of the European Commission’s key Digital Agenda for Europe goals, namely to provide access to fast broadband across Europe by 2013, is threatened by a decision by European heads of state to slash the budget. This could further impede working towards equity in the area of eHealth.
Under its Digital Agenda for Europe strategy, which has also recently been relaunched with new targets, the Commission’s objective is for Europeans to have access to fast broadband by 2013 while ensuring that at least 50% of households are able to subscribe to internet access above 100 megabits per second (Mbps) by 2020. This was to be achieved through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) for cross-border infrastructure projects under the EU’s 2014-2020 budget, involving a multi-billion Euro investment including €9.2 billion for expanding broadband and digital networks.
However, during discussion on the long-term budget the broadband allocation was slashed to just €1 billion, which will clearly not be enough to put into place the necessary infrastructure across the Union. Neelie Kroes, the EU’s Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, expressed her discontent, describing the massive cut as a missed opportunity which will delay roll-out and create more costs. The remaining amount will be spent on cross-border digital services.
Meanwhile, the Commission estimates that up to €200 billion is required to meet the 2020 digital broadband targets in full.
The cut is also a huge disappointment for the ICT innovation economy given that loans will be more difficult to obtain, and the EU investment gap needs to be filled by industry and the Member States.
Given the EU’s declared focus on the innovation economy, the reduced budget in this area is surprising. However, it further underlines EPHA’s stance towards eHealth, which emphasises that health systems must be prepared to offer stratified services both on-and offline to serve different categories of patients, some of whom will be more and some of whom will be less able to use ICT, as well as digitally literate (see also EPHA’s Briefing on eHealth and assessment of the 2012-2020 eHealth Action Plan).
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