Since 2000, with the explosion of the internet and the mobile telephony market, and in compliance with the Lisbon strategy, the European Investment Bank has allocated a large part of its innovation funding to increasing the availability of information and communication technologies (ICT), in particular to the deployment of 'fixed' and 'mobile' broadband telecoms networks as well as the technology to access them.

With an annual turnover of 347 billion, the telecoms sector, liberalised in 1998, is doing well in the European Union. It is responsible for 2.9% of Europe's GDP and is managing to weather the financial crisis. The help from the EIB is therefore intended mainly to bridge the 'digital divide' between urban areas with extensive broadband coverage and rural and disadvantaged areas that have been neglected by the operators, which for obvious reasons of return on investment compete for access to large cities and built-up areas.

Bridging 'digital divide'

European Structural Funds (ESF) already play an important role in reducing this 'digital divide', given that their main objective is to eliminate socio-economic disparities between the different regions of the EU - notwithstanding that it is mainly national, regional and local networks that qualify for ESF rather than international links. In a bid therefore to promote international networks, the EU has established a Trans-European Telecoms Network (TEN-telecoms) to support projects in domains where, as highlighted by the European Parliament, "purely private initiatives are discouraged by the uncertainty in terms of short-term viability and the difficult organisational demands at trans-European level, which is an obstacle to the development of the information society for everyone in the European Union".

Projects financed under the TEN-telecoms tend, however, to be 'user-focused application projects', which use the underlying physical infrastructure. But the infrastructure, according to the experts, "receives most of the funds allocated by the ESF and the EIB". It is therefore evident, they say, that investments supported by the EIB or the EIF (networks and interurban exchanges, mobile telephony networks, satellite networks, local cordless loops) "contribute to the trans-European inter-connection between countries and allows for greater interoperability of services and applications supported by TEN-telecoms".

In a further bid to bridge the 'digital divide', the EIB signed a memorandum of...

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