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Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on universal service in electronic communications andfuture networks and the internet
 (2009/C 120/08)
 THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
 — stresses that the requirement for an affordable functional internet access is essential for economic,social and territorial growth and inclusion across the EU.notes that as a service comparable to other utilities, such as water and electricity, broadband is now increasingly seen as a ‘4
 th
 utility’.highlights that there is a need for the EU to guarantee that services and high quality communicationsare offered at reasonable prices to all residents or consumers, independently from their social orgeographical situation.— emphasises the key role and responsibility of local and regional authorities in helping to ensureaffordable broadband access in areas where the market fails, in providing leadership on pilotprojects for bridging the e-Accessibility gap, and in developing new approaches of citizen-centredpublic e-services.has, on several occasions, analysed and discussed the range of solutions being implemented by localand regional authorities across Europe and recognises that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Whatmay be suitable for a large urban centre may not be so for other areas, such as a small mountainousregion, with a complex, rugged terrain, or sparse population in which extra efforts are required for theprovision of any kind of service.
EN
 28.5.2009 Official Journal of the European Union C 120/41
 
Rapporteur:
Robert Bright (UK/PES), Member of Newport City Council
 Reference documents
 Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economicand Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the second periodic review of the scope of universal service in electronic communications networks and services in accordance with Article 15 of Directive 2002/22/ECCOM(2008) 572 finalCommunication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economicand Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Communication on future networks and theinternetCOM(2008) 594 final
 POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
 THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS (CoR)
 A.
Universal service in electronic communications
 General remarks
 1. tasked with ensuring that all who request universal servicein electronic communications (e communications) are providedwith services essential for participation in society and its devel
­
opment, welcomes the second periodic review of the scope of universal service in electronic communications networks. This isan important step in reviewing equality of access, inclusivity andparticipation in commerce throughout the EU. As a servicecomparable to other utilities, such as water and electricity,Broadband is now increasingly seen as a ‘4
 th
 utility’. The CoRhas identified ICT as a driver for increasing competitiveness andbetter public services, within the EU's renewed Lisbon Strategy in order that:— the information and communication technologies underpinan information society which is open to all and meets theneeds of all members of society, including those withdisabilities, the elderly and all those at risk of socialexclusion;— electronic communications address the issue of inaccessi
­
bility for citizens living in these regions (mainly ruralareas) who currently do not have adequate access to infor
­
mation communications networks and services;— universal service for electronic communications, whichrequires a defined minimum service of specified quality orspeed made available to all users, is better placed to closethe digital divide in future;— universal service must be brought up to date, given that.since its implementation its scope has remained virtually unchanged and is still restricted to a single connection— Internet usage can grow in the future and is not limited inthe European Union by issues such as an increasing scarcity of Internet Protocol addresses (IP) or security issues. In thiscontext the CoR welcomes the European Commission‘Internet of Things’ consultation and would underline thenecessity for a move from IPv4 internet protocol to theupgraded IPv6 that facilitates the Internet’s expansion witha direct consequence for Europe’s competitiveness.2. endorses the four specific elements in the scope of universal service directive and stresses that the future develop
­
ment of broadband access, universal service and the internetwill have important implications for social, economic and terri
­
torial cohesion in the EU Member States. There is a need for theEU to guarantee that services and high quality communicationsare offered at reasonable prices to all residents or consumers,independently from their social or geographical situation, aswell as to take the regional dimension into account moreclearly when considering the consequences of the measures (
 1
 ).3. emphasises the key role and responsibility of local andregional authorities in helping to ensure affordable broadbandaccess in areas where the market fails, in providing leadershipon pilot projects for bridging the e-Accessibility gap, and indeveloping new approaches of citizen-centred public e-services (
 2
 ).4. stresses the need for EU telecommunications policy ingeneral to be flexible and broad in scope in order to be ableto adapt to rapid, unpredictable technological and marketchanges, which have an impact on all other sectors of society (
 3
 ).5. emphasises the need to develop fundamental measures inareas that are horizontal priorities in order to promote equalopportunities (e.g. making public websites universally accessible,developing broadband infrastructure). The intervention of thelocal, regional or national level is essential in ensuring this (
 4
 ).
EN
 C 120/42 Official Journal of the European Union 28.5.2009
 (
 1
 ) CdR 520/99 fin.(
 2
 ) CdR 5/2008 fin.(
 3
 ) CdR 520/99 fin.(
 4
 ) CdR 5/2008 fin.
 
6. welcomes the Commission's efforts to start reflection onthe future role of universal service in the provision of e-commu
­
nications services, particularly with regard to the provision of broader access to electronic communications services for allusers, including the disabled.
 Sufficient universal access provided by e-communications markets
 7. supports the Commission in undertaking a review of theuniversal service in electronic communications networks on aregular and frequent basis.8. stresses that the requirement for an affordable functionalinternet access is essential for economic, social and territorialgrowth and inclusion across the EU.9. recognises fundamentally that there is an inequality anddifference of access, deployment and development across EUMembers States which is most noticeable in those regions(mainly in rural areas) which lack the penetration of suchaffordable functional internet access in comparison to Urbanand Metropolitan areas.10. concerned that a divide has been created in terms notonly of a digital nature but a social and economic one that isever more reliant on digital technologies and access to them.11. recognises the difficulties the markets have in providingaffordable high speed broadband networks to certain geogra
­
phical areas and calls upon the European Commission todevelop policies and guidance that acknowledge market failureand facilitate state and public sector initiatives to develop opennetworks functionally separated from services in such areas.
 Sufficient data rates to permit functional internet access
 12. stresses that access to broadband at affordable pricesthroughout the EU is a basic prerequisite for guaranteeing thequality of public services, promoting competitiveness andproductivity (
 5
 ). High-quality broadband access at reasonableprices can increase the accessibility and quality of servicesprovided by local and regional authorities while making iteasier for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to offertheir products for sale. Remote regions and communities espe
­
cially the outermost ones are expected to benefit considerably from more widespread and faster access to broadbandservices (
 6
 ).13. emphasises that special attention must be paid to the lesseconomically developed regions, so that they can make use of the opportunities for effective convergence offered by ICT andcan avoid the risks of exclusion (
 7
 ).14. reiterates the Riga target of Broadband reaching 90 % of the EU population by 2010, but that this is not enough on itsown and should be complimented by other factors being takeninto account: geographical spread, population density, etc. Thereremains a substantial disparity between Member States and theEuropean Commission’s analysis that only 70 % of the rural EUpopulation is so far covered (
 8
 ).15. urges the promotion of measures by local and regionalauthorities can serve as examples of user-centred e-governmentsolutions to promote digital literacy and ensure conditionswhich are conducive to business and research activities in theICT field (
 9
 ).16. urges the Commission to define broadband as an always-on service, which allows simultaneous use of voice and dataservices with minimum download and upload speeds that aresufficient to allow functional internet access in all regions.
 Reference to broadband in amended scope of a universal service obli
­
gation
 17. stresses that a lasting digital divide causes social andeconomic exclusion. Achieving equal opportunities in terms of digital access and skills is a social necessity; at the same time, italso offers untapped economic potential. It is important to useICT as a new ‘social instrument’, linking ICT strategies toCommunity social policies (
 10
 ) and to cohesion policy as aninstrument for local and regional development.18. expresses very serious concerns that a common pitfall inbroadband deployment is the risk of market failure, whereprivate operators perceive little return on infrastructuralinvestment in remote, rural, low-population-density areas orwhere mountainous and upland terrain makes it a particularly complex and onerous task (
 11
 ).19. proposes the inclusion of mechanisms for the promotionof functional broadband internet access in rural areas, regionswith low population density and the outermost regions. If necessary there should be support for investment in the devel
­
opment of ICT and infrastructure by local and regional auth
­
orities or, in cooperation with them, by small and medium-sized enterprises or through local initiatives (
 12
 ).20. calls for the formulation of specific measures such as EUStructural Funds to ensure clarity and consistency in thedelivery of functional internet access across EU regions inadvance of the Mid Term Review (MTR) of these programmesin 2010.
EN
 28.5.2009 Official Journal of the European Union C 120/43
 (
 5
 ) CdR 5/2008 fin, CdR 272/2006 fin.(
 6
 ) CdR 252/2005 fin.(
 7
 ) CdR 5/2008 fin.(
 8
 ) CdR 272/2006 fin.(
 9
 ) CdR 5/2008 fin.(
 10
 ) CdR 5/2008 fin.(
 11
 ) CdR 272/2006 fin.(
 12
 ) CdR 4/2008 fin.

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