With the European Commission’s wishes to promote free Wi-Fi connectivity for citizens and visitors in public spaces in Europe through WiFi4EU, taking stock of the current development in rural areas seems appropriate. Our IoF2020 platform is showcasing the implementation of innovative technologies using the Internet of Things (IoT) in agriculture. The underlying premise for the proliferation of such innovations is an extensive connectivity, particularly in rural areas with high agricultural activity. Let’s have a closer look at this crucial connectivity.
The European Conference on Rural Development in 2016, adressed the digital divide between rural and urban areas. More recently, the European Commission set up a rural broadband action plan overseen by the Broadband Competence Offices (BCO). In a joint statement, Commissioners said: “All EU citizens should be able to benefit from high-speed broadband connections. This is not the case today, especially in rural areas, which are less attractive to investors. This is why the Commission pays particular attention to good connectivity and supports the roll-out of broadband connections to 18 million rural citizens until 2020.”
For a regular visitor to our website, the benefits of the digitisation of agriculture are evident. However, achieving digital farming will require further broadband infrastructure, big data management and advanced skills among the users. Thus, the European Commission wants to motivate young people to return to the farm and contribute to a rural transformation with their enhanced e-skills.
The BCO wants the rural broadband action plan to centralize funding, technology and regulatory issues. It should also provide guidance to administrations, telecom operators and private stakeholder. A common methodology will be designed for helping with the planification and the monitoring of broadband investments. It will serve as a useful resource for regions that wish to increase rural coverage. Additionally, with incentives like the European Broadband Awards 2017, local communities are encouraged to launch successful projects rolling out effective broadband infrastructure.
For one award-winning project, optic fibre was deployed for a Swedish island with at least 85 % of residents supporting the operation. To keep the costs low, people offered their land for cable rollout and even dug them themselves, all thanks to a simple incentive. Another project helped to deploy broadband with a mix of ICTs in a disadvantaged “white rural area” in Greece. The total cost of the project is EUR 199.7 million of which nearly 75% came from EU Structural funds.
Even though the path for achieving the EU's vision of ubiquitous digitization is not cheap, the benefits significantly outweigh the costs. A radically different approach to farming is needed: challenges like environmental damage, population growth or animal health will be better addressed with the help of broadband proliferation to rural areas.