EU boosts Greek computing

The EU is to hand out some €210m to Greece to fund broadband networks, computers and training.

The near £150m hand out has been approved by the European Commission on the basis that it would boost adoption in areas of the country where consumers and businesses have difficulties accessing Internet connections.

This essentially translates as anywhere outside the main metropolitan areas of Athens and Thessalonika.

The EU described the funding as ‘the most significant broadband project undertaken by a Member State’. Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: ‘I am pleased to endorse public funding for the deployment of broadband networks in under-served regions of Greece.

‘To date, this is the most ambitious broadband project notified under the state aid rules. The project is fully in line with the Commission’s policy to promote broadband in rural and remote areas and with the state aid rules.’

The money will be spent on ‘the provision of broadband access services by service providers’ as well as funding the purchase of PCs, modems, and any other Internet-related services such as training by end-users.

It’s no secret that Greece needs help, nor that the EU has funding plans to help bridge the digital divides in Europe.

In March the EU proposed that ‘Public intervention in the forms of loans and grants, often as public-private partnerships, should be further developed in under-served areas. Fiscal incentives for subscribers should be explored by Member States, in compliance with competition rules and technological neutrality’.

An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and its report on broadband for 2005 put Greece right at the bottom of the pile. It has no cable services to speak of; yet even with DSL access, connection rates are running at just 1.4 per 100 inhabitants.

But it’s not simply an issue of population density at the root of the problem. Greece’s population density of around 90 people per square kilometre looks pretty good against the likes of Australia or Iceland, which barely make a blip on the chart. Yet the latter boasts the highest figures for broadband penetration: 26.7 subscribers per 100 inhabitants. And in real numbers, Greece has more connections than Iceland.

Despite the physical problems of rolling out DSL services to a country made up of islands, another barrier to bridging the divide is simply a lack of interest and skills. A recent Eurostat survey put a figure of 65 per cent on the population of Greece that was unable to use a computer. And for the 55 and over demographic, that figure rockets to 93 per cent.

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