Europe to Invest Billions in Broadband

New infrastructure expected to generate investment and jobs

The European Commission is proposing to invest €9.2 billion ($12.8 billion) on super-fast broadband and digital public services to cover the whole of Europe.

The BBC reports that the new investment is expected to put all European households on at least 30 megabits per second by 2020, with half the population enjoying more than 100 megabits per second. Investing in faster broadband networks will “make the continent more competitive and productive,” the BBC says. In particular, the commission aims to improve broadband in rural areas and develop cross-border e-health and procurement services.

Europe’s Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes flagged up plans to upgrade Europe’s existing broadband systems at a conference earlier this month. Of the €9.2 billion, she said, "€6.4 billion of this would be earmarked for broadband infrastructure, largely in the form of equity, debt, or guarantees”. Dow Jones Newswires reports that the commission’s investment could generate up to €100 billion in total broadband investment through leverage. The BBC and The Guardian now place that figure at closer to €50 billion.

According to Dow Jones Newswires, the proposed investment is a reaction to slow-moving telecoms companies reluctant to replace copper wires with fiber-optic cables. "Unfortunately, we see that for the time being, telecom companies are hesitant to commit significant funds to fiber roll-out," Kroes said. The commission’s input and that of the European Investment Bank, however, would “improve credibility” for the project and “absorb part of the risk," she said.

The proposed project would also invest in transport and energy projects, encouraging more money from private investors and local and national governments. It’s hoped that the planned schemes will create hundreds of thousands of jobs across Europe.