Can satellites help bridge the digital divide?

man and woman sitting in an internet caf
Satellites could bring nationwide digital access
9 January 2004

The French Senate and ESA are to hold a colloquium this month on "Satellites and Bridging the Digital Divide".

They will evaluate the potential role of satellite systems in achieving nationwide digital access and assess Europe’s on-going efforts to accomplish this.

Bridging the digital divide is a challenge that must be addressed for the future development of Europe's regions. No commercially-viable solution has yet been found to provide online access to those citizens isolated by natural obstacles, living in scattered rural communities or on the outlying periphery of the European Union. Moreover, the arrival of ten new EU member countries may well add to an already uneven spread of digital access.

The colloquium will address questions like: "Can space-based infrastructures provide the most appropriate solution to narrow the gap?" Terrestrial infrastructures are affected by population density or low-level economic activity. Satellite systems, however, guarantee uniform coverage over a given area; within this area, all potential users enjoy the same access to services and the same quality of service. TV broadcasting is a practical illustration of this.

It is therefore important to determine if satellites can provide a technically appropriate solution. Most digitally deprived localities also tend to be the least densely populated so issues related to financing become highly relevant. The colloquium may clarify whether financing digitally deprived areas will become part of the European strategy for space.

The colloquium will be on 22 January 2004 at the French Senate (Palais du Luxembourg) in Paris, France.

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