BF 155/17: Rural Space 4.0? - Stocktaking and Critical Reception

Désirée Ehlers, Oliver Tamme

The progressive spread of the internet (keyword digitalisation) in almost all areas of life has gone hand in hand with rapid technical development in recent years. In order to be able to use the increasingly diverse and sophisticated possibilities of the internet (video streaming, internet commerce, home office, cloud computing, etc.), the availability of adequate internet access is necessary. Today, the term "broadband connection" has become established as a synonym for high-performance, fast access. Against the background of increasing data volumes in the ICT sector, constantly rising transmission rates (bandwidth) are indispensable.
With the needs of the modern information society, the demands on the availability and performance of data networks are increasing. Ambitious goals are therefore being pursued both at the European level (keyword EU Digital Agenda) and nationally to improve broadband coverage.
Since the expansion of the broadband network is progressing at very different speeds in different regions, the spectrum of existing urban-rural disparities has been expanded to include a component, "broadband coverage". Especially in peripherally located and sparsely populated municipalities, the higher investment costs per connection compared to the densely populated conurbations often represent a major obstacle to the establishment of a modern infrastructure and delay the expansion. Thus, there is a danger of a widening of the "digital divide", an increasing locational disadvantage of rural communities compared to the densely populated areas of the central regions.
An efficient connection to the web infrastructure is especially important for rural areas in order to avoid a worsening of regional disparities and to ensure equal living conditions in all sub-areas, and the expansion of broadband is an important instrument of socio-economic cohesion or territorial cohesion (cf. EU diction). Thus, the expansion of an efficient broadband supply can open up opportunities to compensate for existing accessibility deficits, especially in remote areas. Also in view of the consequences of the demographic challenges, the migration in many structurally weak, rural regions, high expectations are placed on digital concepts for municipal infrastructures, for example in the health sector, local supply, working from home, and in dealing with authorities. The internet is the prerequisite for a multitude of new possibilities to organise services of general interest differently and better.
All areas of life and the economy in rural areas are increasingly affected by digital change. For many farms, access to the high-speed internet opens up new possibilities for improving efficiency in the procurement of information, in production management and in the marketing of products and services. But also for securing jobs in the rural economy, the many SMEs and for maintaining the attractiveness of communities and villages as places to live, connection to the high-performance web is now just as important as, for example, a high-ranking transport connection.
The provision of broadband internet is a regional and municipal location factor of increasing importance. The associated challenges are still not sufficiently recognised. The development of high-speed networks today has the same revolutionary effect as the advent of electricity and transport networks a century ago! In comparison, the transport issue is much more in the public consciousness. And the associated costs are also taken for granted, while investments in a modern telecommunications infrastructure - which can be built at much lower cost - are too few.
A good broadband infrastructure can significantly support the development of communities. It is an important prerequisite for the retention and settlement of businesses, which require fast internet connections for their operational processes and business relationships. The web is also experiencing an increasing and often high-frequency demand in quality tourism by modern guests.

In order to maintain the rural area, the rural communities as an attractive living space for young people in a knowledge-oriented society, an up-to-date broadband supply is indispensable. Only in this way can professions be practised that depend on global networking with customers and knowledge resources. Pupils need good network connections to acquire digital skills. Public institutions also benefit from fast data connections. Municipalities are increasingly networked with other regional authorities (state, federal) through e-government applications.
Last but not least, the competent handling of digital technologies is a prerequisite for being able to use all these possibilities. Digital skills must be part of school and vocational training. Older people and people with limited mobility should also be able to benefit from the digital world and digital services.
Making the opportunities of digitalisation available to rural areas is a major challenge. Broadband expansion is a necessary but by no means sufficient prerequisite.

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TAMME, Oliver

M.Sc. Oliver TAMME

Mountain Areas Research and Regional Development
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