The European Union has taken a serious position on trying to prevent digital divide from separating its people into first and second class citizens. EU aims to be a leader in “shaping and participating in the global knowledge and information based economy”. (Information Society)
European Union information society goals are achieve through research and development, regulation and standards for competition, and citizen participation through applications and content. Broadband access to the internet is considered a prerequisite to achieving information society, because of its potential in improved productivity, health, education, government services, etc. EU’s information society strategy is called the i2010 Initiative – it aims to be inclusive regardless of geography, social, or economic status. The public services are to be improved through better and more equal access. Job growth is geared toward sustainability and quality of life. Regulation is in place to ensure fair competition.
Broadband internet access is identified as key in fighting digital divide within the European Union. By 2005 20% of EU households had broadband. In the last two+ years the number has increased quite a bit, but I don’t have the latest statisics handy. There are still huge gaps between urban and rural areas, and that needs to be addressed through public intervention, because commercial investments have not been sufficient. The EU states that public intervention must be done in a way that does not “distort competition”.
Having traveled to Europe several times over the past fifteen years I have seen the rapid development and growth of digital technology in Europe. In the 90’s it seemed that the United States was ahead in the development of the “information super highway”, as Al Gore put it. Lots of exciting new innovations came out of Silicon Valley, Seattle and elsewhere. But since the 90’s Europe seems to have gone ahead with innovative new technology, broadband, and internet usage. There are still large gaps between Western Europe (the “old” EU) and the new members in Eastern Europe, such as Bulgaria and Romania.
I am in Finland as I’m writing this essay and I see the quick changes taking place. I was here last summer and it seems like since then so much has moved forward. Now the trend is to go fully wireless, with new 3G networks and fast connections. No more landlines! Finland is ahead of most of Europe in broadband usage and mobile telephone markets. Nokia is a huge factor in this development: when I was a child growing up in Finland, Nokia was known for its rubber boots, tires and TV’s. Its success in the mobile technology has brought the whole nation to the cutting edge of technology. See Finnish statistics HERE.
Being European myself I find the EU’s declarations comforting and reassuring. I believe in fairness and equality for all citizens regardless of wealth or educational background. Leveling the playing field gives more people a chance to achieve better quality of life, and societies more peaceful opportunities to develop. It’s collective “we”, rather than individualistic “me” -type of thinking. I like it.