Problems and challenges
When broadband infrastructure, with almost unlimited capacity for everybody is available, all kinds of content and new digital services can be introduced and developed. Because lack of education and ICT competency is often a common issue, introduction of new digital public services and self-service solutions should be combined with training programmes for citizens and public servants.
At the end of 2002 the vision ‘Fibre to everybody’ was agreed by three small municipalities in a rural part of South Jutland, Denmark. Lack of fast broadband connection was considered to be a major problem for future growth, development and settlement in the area, as well as the introduction of new digital services from the municipalities. Furthermore ‘distance’ is always a key issue in rural areas, and so networks based on fibre technology are an ideal development.
Now, 10 years on, almost every enterprise and household in the area has access to superfast fibre networks (FTTH). Vejen Kommune and the neighbouring region has become the leading and best served broadband area in Denmark and is mentioned as an example of best practice by the EU-Commission. Other broadband projects by Vital Rural Area partners in North Friesland (NL) and Leiedal (B) have been inspired by experience from the Danish project, and in the Vital Rural Area project, broadband and the internet have been the basis for many different pilot activities.
Four pilot projects with digital services have been executed in Vejen Kommune, DK. This was possible because the necessary broadband infrastructure, with high upload and download capacity, was already there. More detailed description from each case study, performed within the Vital Rural Area project is available by consulting one of the following projects:
- Distance Interpreting: translation by video communication
- Improving eldery care by video conference
- Online personal care journal
- Digital Ambassadors - introduction to digital self-service
In addition, broadband infrastructure in Vejen Kommune has been a key issue for other pilot activities considering the strengthening of SMEs, even if it is more or less an invisible element when it works well. Without superfast broadband connections, development and use of digital services will be limited.
The FTTH project in Vejen started before the Vital Rural Area project, but experience has been transfered to other pilot activities concerning broadband infrastructure:
- Regional Open Network, Leiedal, B
- Smart Rural Network Society, Province of Friesland, NL
- Klasseglass, NOFA, NL
Lack of fast broadband connection for everybody is, of course, a barrier for the introduction of digital services to citizens and enterprises and for development of new digital solutions. Investment in broadband infrastructure is usually not a task for public authorities, but the public sector needs to be very much aware of gaps in broadband connections and capacity. We must stimulate demand for fast broadband and ensure enough bandwidth is available when digital solutions are to be introduced for entrepreneurs and citizens.
But lack of education, local traditions and habits are very important as well. Citizens and public servants need an introduction and training to be comfortable with new digital solutions, and sometimes usual routines and workflow need to be redesigned to match the new digital solutions.
When new digital services are developed you need to clarify the individual barriers which may arise, before you can introduce and deploy your service to enterprises and citizens.
Long term return on investment in broadband infrastructure, e.g. 20 years, needs to be considered, but on the other hand you also have other benefits like more cost effective solutions and better services. Public-Private Partnerships might be a way to solve the financial problems, and some public or EU funding might be allowed in rural or so called white areas.
When broadband infrastructure with almost unlimited capacity, such as FTTH, is available to everybody, the opportunity for the introduction of new services is limitless. The experiences from Vejen Kommune totally confirm and support the objectives of the Digital Agenda for Europe: http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/digital-agenda-europe
Tools and lessons from each pilot activity can be found if you follow the links to the case studies, but general tools like ‘SWOT-analysis’ and ‘Business-case model’ are useful in most situations. An important tool for deployment of broadband infrastructure is the ‘Guide to Broadband Investment’ which was published by the EU-Commission in December 2011. The guide is based on examples of ‘best practice’ in Europe, and ‘The Midtsoenderjylland Project’ from Vejen, DK, is one of twelve examples mentioned. Here’s a link to the guide: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/cf/itemdetail.cfm?item_id=7630