The European Union has been called on to back a proposal to bridge the digital divide in rural communities of Clare, Limerick and Tipperary which are unable to access fibre or wireless broadband services.
The Southern & Eastern Regional Assembly Mid-West Office (formerly Mid West Regional Office) and Clare-based Slí Nua Development are partners of an EU-funded Satellite Broadband for European Regions project (SABER).
The network met in Brussels today to launch a Satellite Broadband Voucher Scheme which it said should be implemented by the members of the EU and their regional governments to encourage awareness and take-up of satellite broadband solutions across Europe’s most rural regions.
The meeting brought together representatives from 21 European regional authorities, satellite experts and key influencers, including Eutelsat, SES Broadband Services, Airbus Defence and Space, to examine how to accelerate broadband adoption in rural areas.
Majella O’Brien, EU Projects Officer, SERA Mid West Office said theSatellite Broadband Voucher Scheme would be of assistance to communities in the Mid West which have yet to benefit under successive National Broadband schemes and are unlikely to be able to access affordable broadband services in the near future.
“Satellite broadband is a practical and viable solution today but the expense associated with setting up and subscribing to the service can be prohibitive for many. Unlike in North America and Australia, Europe has been relatively slow to drive awareness, acceptance and adoption of satellite technology," she explained.
Ms. O'Brien continued: "Satellite broadband is a viable option for many rural communities which find themselves in a broadband black spot. The Satellite Broadband Voucher Scheme is one method of increasing its take up and helping rural households and business to bridge the digital divide."
Patrick Sullivan of Slí Nua Development, an economic development company and SABER project member based in the rural East Clare village of Ogonnelloe, is also backing the proposed Satellite Broadband Voucher Scheme.
"In this digital world, it has been widely accepted that business competitiveness relies on having access to affordable broadband services," he explained, "However, businesses that are located in remote and rural areas of Limerick, Clare and Tipperary for example, are disadvantaged because they are not able to access affordable broadband services; especially at the higher broadband speeds that are necessary for them to exploit the increasing number of ICT applications and services that are now available on the market."
Mr. Sullivan said one solution to addressing the digital divide is the delivery of Broadband Services through satellites, in the same way as many of us receive our television programmes.
He continued: "Significant technological advancements have been made in satellite technology which has resulted in this being a reliable medium for the delivery of broadband services. Businesses in rural and remote areas can therefore now gain access to broadband services through satellite technology."
Mr. Sullivan said that the SABER project has developed guidance, in particular targeted at Regional Policy makers, to make them aware that Satellite technology is available to deliver broadband services. The guidance, written by Slí Nua Development and Eutelsat, and which has been reviewed by 17 regions from across Europe, has focussed on the selection of appropriate technologies and deployment models; building the business case for investing in broadband support programmes; exploring funding options; dealing with state aid; and procuring satellite solutions.
"Through supporting the development of this guidance, the European Commission has sought to encourage Regional Policy makers from across Europe to consider satellite solutions when preparing their plans to bridge the digital divide in their respective areas," added Mr. Sullivan.
Led by CSI-Piemonte in Italy, the 24-month SABER project is partially EU-funded and involves 26 partners, 21 regional authorities and ICT public and private organisations supporting regions in broadband deployment representing 13 countries. During its lifespan, the SABER project has published important, practical information, guidelines and toolkits (some available in several languages) to help national and regional governments close the European Digital Divide by using satellite broadband technology.
For more visit www.project-saber.eu.