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Role of Information and Communication Technologies

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are often said to overcome the main disadvantage of some GEOSPECS areas, namely remoteness - in terms of distance from markets and economic activities as well as centres of service provision. Some case studies show examples of the application of these technologies (e.g., telemedicine projects in Finland and French Guyana, homeworking in the Scottish Highlands, "e-democracy" approaches in Finland). However, most of these projects have been pilot initiatives subsidized by national or European public funds. Another example is the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland (an institution with 13 campuses across this sparsely populated and extensive area), which has particularly embraced the advantages of virtual interaction: "the UHI do as much videoconferencing as all the rest of the universities in the UK put together" (Rennie & Mason, 2005).

On the supply side, geographic specificities pose challenges. As many GEOSPECS areas are sparsely populated or remote or both (this is mainly true for OR, islands, SPA and mountains), private investors have few incentives to supply these areas with broadband or mobile phone connections. Telecoms connectivity is inherently more commercially attractive in urban areas due to lower deployment costs per user. Broadband coverage in sparsely populated areas generally lags behind that of densely populated ones. In the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, a major effort of public investment in ICT (in the past two decades) has propelled the area into the same league as the national average in terms of internet and mobile phone coverage. Similar public efforts have been undertaken in Scandinavian countries. These successful examples show that public intervention is necessary, or at least useful, in areas where the market does not supply the infrastructure. Nevertheless, it should be noted that, even though the variation between GEOSPECS areas and other areas can be large, variations between countries are even larger. For example, while in Sweden or the Netherlands, 77 - 79% of households have broadband coverage, in Greece this figure is only 34% and, in Romania and Bulgaria, less than 25%.


These findings are just some samples from the extensive quantitative analysis that was undertaken for GEOSPECS. The entire analysis can be found in the Draft Final Scientific Report, downloadable on the ESPON website.



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