EU sets Net goals, but extra funds not offered

The European Commission has set new targets for broadband Internet penetration in the European Union, especially in the public sector, Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society Erkki Liikanen said Wednesday.

But he warned there will be little extra money to help finance the rollout of high speed Internet distribution.

In a paper dubbed e-Europe 2005, the Commission has called for the 15 member states of the E.U. to have broadband connections for all public administrations by 2005.

“A lot of public services are already online, but without fast Internet access it is difficult to offer interactive services,” Liikhanen said at a press conference to announce the paper.

He said the money to fund this technological step forward must come from existing budgets. Some 6 billion euros of so-called structural funds are already earmarked for high-technology projects in poorer regions between 2000 and 2006.

The only change to financing will be that the European Commission will increase its share of co-financed projects from a ceiling of 10 per cent at present to around 35 per cent, Mr Liikanen said.

“This means we will be able to support fewer but bigger projects,” Liikanen said.

The Commissioner didn’t provide any figures on how much funding would be needed to meet the targets. But he shrugged off concerns that neither telecommunications operators nor governments may be particularly eager to foot the bill.

Telecom companies are still struggling to digest the billions of euros invested in third generation mobile phone licenses. And cash-strapped governments need to balance their budgets and may find it difficult to finance new infrastructure projects.