The European Commission clearly highlights that the digital transition should work for all, putting people first and opening new opportunities for businesses. To ensure the widest coverage of the digital transition, it is important that its benefits are extended to all the people living in rural areas.
DIGITALLY EQUIPPED RURAL FUTURES
Digital technologies can fuel economic growth by creating jobs, introducing new business models and increasing added value in the local area. In addition, digital technologies can also be used to support transparency in governance, social innovation and have a positive social and environmental impact in the local area.
Nevertheless, there are several factors that could enhance the digital maturity of a rural area:
- Enabling universal and equal access to human-centric digital technologies
- Providing lifelong learning opportunities to enable at-scale reskilling and upskilling of rural inhabitants
- Using interoperable data platforms, systems and services to enable social and technological innovation
- Using efficient digital solutions to monitor, mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change and support environmental protection.
- Arranging functional digital innovation ecosystems to support and accelerate the digital transformation in rural areas.
ENABLING THE DIGITAL TRANSITION: CONNECTIVITY AND SKILLS
There are two essential elements to be considered when it comes to digital transition: connectivity and digital skills.
In terms of connectivity, rural and peripheral areas in Europe have always been lagging behind urban and peri-urban areas. However, connectivity is not the only area where rural areas are lagging behind in the digital transformation process. As digital skills are considered essential for global competitiveness, the lack of digital skills in rural areas mirrors socio-economic inequalities between rural and urban areas and increases the digital rural-urban divide.
ENSURING THAT RURAL AREAS ARE DIGITALLY EQUIPPED AND PREPARED FOR THE FUTURE
Clear goals and targets for digital development must be set specifically for rural areas along with allocation of adequate funding. Since almost 30% of all Europeans live in rural areas, a possible benchmark would be for at least 20% of the funds allocated for the EDIH network to be reserved for digital innovation hubs working with companies, organisations and communities in rural areas. Another important issue is raising awareness about the opportunities digital technologies bring to people, businesses and communities and building trust in using them. Low digital literacy leads to a lack of understanding of how digital technologies work and a subsequent lack of trust or fear of using them. That is why it is important to engage people who are working as digital brokers or intermediaries.
Last, rural development policies can play a key role. It is important to include goals for rural development in digitalisation policies and strategies, such as the European Digital Agenda and the national digital strategies of the Member States and look for common goals and links between rural and urban areas.
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