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Shaping Europe’s digital future
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Digital connectivity to counter rural depopulation

The latest study of the European Joint Research Centre (JRC) introduces the exploratory concept of ‘lonely places’ in Europe. As explained in this video interview, such places present a vulnerability in terms of insufficient local endowment, accessibility or connectivity.

Digitalisation can benefit rural communities in many ways, but this requires fast and reliable broadband connectivity.

According to the Joint Research Centre (JRC) study, ‘New perspectives on territorial disparities’, the concept of ‘lonely places’ is “spatially embedded and identifies a plurality of places that present a vulnerability in terms of lack or insufficient local endowment, accessibility, or connectivity”. The study presents an interdisciplinary approach to serve in creating fully integrated policies, addressing several dimensions such as physical infrastructure, access to schools, cultural facilities, democratic participation, and migrants’ integration, among others.

Among such challenges, the study takes a closer look at the connectivity gap, finding that residents of such areas have access to internet connections half the speed of that in urban areas, often below 30 Mbps. Taken as a critical infrastructure and essential service, high-speed broadband could help tackle the current depopulation trend in rural and remote areas, by enabling other essential services otherwise inaccessible online, such as remote working, education and healthcare. As Ms. Carolina Perpiña Castillo, one of the authors of the JRC study, explains in this video interview, digitalisation – as part of a interdisciplinary approach – can contribute to turning ‘lonely places’ into places of opportunities, making them more attractive to people and businesses. By taking advantage of digitalisation, rural citizens can benefit directly and see an impact on their everyday lives, for example, with access to services such as telemedicine, e-learning, ‘smart’ farm management and teleworking.

To support and accelerate the roll-out of reliable, high-speed broadband infrastructure to all citizens, in order to bring improved access to digital opportunities for rural and remote areas, the EU is working with Member States and regions through the European Broadband Competence Offices (BCO) Network, and has provided a range of funding instruments for Member States and broadband project promoters (an overview can be found in the brochure ‘EU Funding for Broadband 2021-2027’). The EU's Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas and the Rural Pact further lay out the European Commission’s objectives and roadmap for ensuring that citizens in rural and remote communities have equal access to opportunities and a good quality of life, as those in urban areas.

This interview was filmed as part of the BCO Network’s work to raise awareness of EU support for high-speed broadband deployment and share good practices in broadband projects. Discover more interviews in the BCO Network YouTube playlist and more broadband good practices, news and resources in the BCO Network Library.

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