Speaking at this year’s virtual Connected Italy event, the Commission’s Head of Investment in High-Capacity Networks, Franco Accordino, said that a holistic approach to investment and European connectivity would be key to digitalisation in the coming years

In Italy, as with most areas of Europe, great progress has been made in recent years to enhance connectivity. From the rollout of fibre to the gradual introduction of 5G, the quality and availability of connectivity is better than ever. 
But there is still much to be done. The coronavirus pandemic has brought to light the real importance of connectivity in the modern world and, sadly, what an enormous challenge a lack of this connectivity can mean to those without it.
“If there’s one message that Covid is telling us today, it is that without connectivity the world would stop working,” said Accordino.
Part of the problem here is the operators’ natural focus on urban centres for connectivity deployment compared to more rural regions. 
“There is an important gap between the rural and the urban dimension. We in Europe are characterised by our rural economy, as well as our industrial economy. Our vision is that every single village or rural space in Europe can still be a cradle of innovation,” he said, noting that this was a systemic issue throughout Europe and one especially prevalent in Italy. 
“This is a very known problem: how to value the immense potential of our rural areas? This is particularly true of Italy, which has thousands of small municipalities that are unfortunately not experiencing flourishing economics; instead, they are facing depopulation, as well as economic and social problems. Bringing connectivity to these areas is really vital for their future.”

Investment, of course, is at the heart of solving this issue, with much more needed if Europe is to reach its overall connectivity goals for 2025. Currently, the investment deficit is significant, climbing into the billions of euros.
“In Italy we have a €42 billion investment gap to reaching the gigabit connectivity targets for 2025, set by the European Commission,” said Accordino.
The EU Commission itself is overseeing a wide range of significant investment projects, looking to encourage co-investment from the private sector. Around  
€76 billion available via the Horizon Europe project, with a further €6.7 billion from the Digital Europe project. More recently, the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) is making €2 billion available, with around half of the budget is earmarked for 5G, with the rest focusing on the digital backbone of Europe, WiFi, and operational digital platforms.
“It is a holistic approach to investment between the Commission, private investors, and member states individual contributions,” said Accordino. 
“All of this is fundamental for the strategic and digital autonomy of Europe. Without these large-scale infrastructure projects, we would not have the enabling force to further develop our economies and societies.”
Ultimately, cross-border connectivity is going to be central to not only increasing the opportunities for companies across the continent, but also in helping develop a stronger, more cohesive European connectivity framework.
“Connectivity will be at the heart of a stronger Union,” concluded Accordino. “This pan-European dimension is reflected in everything that we do. It’s important to consider infrastructure investments as an opportunity to create synergies at a European level between supply and demand.” 
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