In 2020, the mandate of the European Broadband Competence Offices (BCOs) Network gained in urgency. As a large portion of European citizens and businesses moved their activities online, disparities in connectivity became a true issue of inequality, where many, especially in rural and remote areas, face a real obstacle to essential participation in the virtual ecosystem of our ‘new normal’.

Title over blue starry background: "The European Broadband Competence Offices Network in 2020"

In response, Europe’s BCOs doubled down on their mission to accelerate the deployment of high-speed broadband access to all. The BCO Network – the European Commission’s knowledge-exchange and capacity-building initiative for BCOs – saw the highest level of Europe-wide engagement since its launch in 2017. An average of 75 BCO representatives attended during each of 23 online workshops held throughout the year. Dedicated virtual meetings were held to provide support at national, regional and even municipal level; ensuring the progress of WiFi4EU; preparing for CEF2 Digital and the revision of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive; and reinforcing dialogue with rural stakeholders. BCOs worked across national borders to share experiences and good practices, and collaborated throughout the year with European Commission representatives to provide feedback from the ground and to apply EU guidance to the challenges of their specific contexts.

As the BCO Network Support Facility Team Lead, Jan Dröge, underlines in the introduction to this year’s BCO Network Activity Report, the responsiveness and dedication of both the BCOs and the European Commission made 2020 the most intensive as well as the most successful year of the initiative to-date. Watch the 2020 video below.

2020 had already been set to be a year of busy preparation in the lead up to the new Multiannual Financial Framework. Once the pandemic hit, however, the ways in which digitalisation and connectivity can offer an essential support system for so many aspects of our lives, were cast into sharp contrast. It was suddenly undeniable that those without reliable access to this system are at a stark disadvantage, and, seemingly overnight, what had, in many cases, been a background project to improve broadband access and infrastructure, became an urgent socio-economic and political priority.

This urgency has translated directly into the new priorities of the European Commission, which foresee 20% of Next Generation EU funding devoted to ‘digital’. As European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, put it in her State of the Union address:

Imagine for a moment life in this pandemic without digital in our lives. From staying in quarantine – isolated from family and community and cut off from the world of work – to major supply problems. […] modern technology has allowed young people to learn remotely and millions to work from home. [It] enabled companies to sell their products, factories to keep running and government to deliver crucial public services from afar.

We saw years’ worth of digital innovation and transformation in the space of a few weeks. We are reaching the limits of the things we can do in an analogue way. And this great acceleration is just beginning. We must make this Europe’s Digital Decade.

This invigorated digital drive will also, critically, seek to ensure the inclusion of rural communities:

If we are striving for a Europe of equal opportunities, it is unacceptable that 40% of people in rural areas still do not have access to fast broadband connections. These connections are now the prerequisite for home working, home learning, online shopping and, increasingly by the day, for new important services. Without broadband connections, it is now barely possible to build or run a business effectively.

This is a huge opportunity and the prerequisite for revitalising rural areas. Only then can they fully exploit their potential and attract more people and investment. The investment boost through Next Generation EU is a unique chance to drive expansion to every village.

President von der Leyen further stated that:

Next Generation EU is also a unique opportunity to develop a more coherent European approach to connectivity and digital infrastructure deployment. 

In this, the role of BCOs is fundamental. 

Looking to 2021, Mr Dröge notes:

I do not know if next year is going to be easier - but it is going to be busier. We will see the kick-off of the largest EU budget ever seen. The funds allocated to digital transition will be unprecedented, and the political support for our sector is unparalleled. In addition, next year will bring a discussion on the future of the State aid rules that govern our projects. It will see the revision of the Cost Reduction Directive (CRD) and the creation of the CRD toolbox. All these elements will have a significant impact on the way broadband support is managed and governed. It will change the way we work.

As the BCOs’ Support Facility, we will continue to shed light on these developments as they happen. We look forward to an exciting year together.

 Find out more

The BCO Network's 2020 Activity Report is part of a series of publications on EU support for broadband roll-out in Europe, produced for the European Network of Broadband Competence Offices.

2020 video

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