Digital inclusion worth €85bn

Digital inclusion worth €85bn

Economic growth will result from more IT-literate EU citizens

Digital inclusion such as ubiquitous broadband access and better web sites could be worth up to €85bn (£60bn) to the European economy over the next five years, according to Brussels.

Ministers from member state governments met in Lisbon this week to check progress towards the target to halve the estimated 200 million people without access to IT-enabled services by 2010.

“It is neither morally acceptable nor economically sustainable to leave millions of people behind,” said Viviane Reding, commissioner for Information Society and Media.

The €85bn boost will be a mixture of cost savings and bigger markets, UK minister of state for competitiveness Stephen Timms told Computing.

“Economic expansion is supported by inclusion ­ making further progress will not be at the expense of growth, but will contribute to it,” he said.

Growth will come in four areas, according to Timms. Unemployment rates will go down as digital literacy improves, public administration costs will be cut, productivity will be enhanced by more intensive use of technology, and markets for IT tools and services will grow.

The UK is making solid advances: 71 per cent of households have internet access and 53 per cent have broadband, up from 60 per cent and 32 per cent respectively in 2005.

And though there is more to do, attention is already turning to the next challenge: the rollout of fibre internet connections that can deliver speeds of up to 100Mbit/s, compared with top rates of 20Mbit/s for traditional broadband.

An industry summit last week, hosted by Timms, aimed to address investment bottlenecks slowing the infrastructure upgrades. The meeting was attended by all major stakeholders, and a vision statement for next-generation broadband in the UK is to be published by the end of January.

The economic value of digital inclusion is not in doubt, but consideration must be given to demand as well as supply, said Jim Norton, senior policy adviser at the Institute of Directors.

“Any investment made now must be balanced between boosting supply and prompting people as to why they might want to use the technology,” said Norton.