The Covid-19 crisis showed once again, more evidently than in normal times, the growing importance of digital networks for the social and economic activities within the EU.
The need to carry on with daily working life, to manage production lines while reducing human physical intervention, to remotely control patients’ health conditions, to avoid gatherings, and to improve traffic control and ensure an intelligent mobility, all increased the importance of accelerating on the digital infrastructure front. In parallel, the emergency resulting from the Covid-19 epidemic and the forced permanence of citizens in their homes has had significant effects on the telecommunication system, resulting in an exponential increase in data traffic. This was due to the increased use of video content streaming, gaming platforms and other data-intensive products, as well as the massive use of companies adopting smart working and of educational institutions e-learning for students.
However, there are still many doubts about how the emergency will impact on future investments in telecom networks, which are essential to offering an emerging set of new generation services (Big Data, AI, IoT), particularly the 5G roadmap. Investments in digital networks can provide a positive contribution to short-term GDP recovery, and act as an anticyclical key in the medium term. In addition, investments in digital networks could also enable a series of essential services for businesses and citizens, as shown during the Covid crisis itself (the numerous uses in the health sector, among many others).
For these reasons, the Commission’s proposal to focus the Next Generation EU on investments and reforms, especially on the green and digital transition, is an important step to enforcing the spread of advanced digital services, and supporting European economic recovery. The recovery investments will be channelled towards strategic digital capacities and capabilities, including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, secured communication, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, supercomputers, quantum and blockchain. According to the EU Commission, this will be a priority in the Recovery and Resilience Facility, InvestEU and the Strategic Investment Facility. Moreover, in order to help bridge Europe’s digital divide, which has become even more apparent during the crisis, the investment guidelines for the new Solvency Support Instrument will also reflect the need to prioritise digital investments. Considering the rising importance of digital value chains and technologies, and their potential to boost productivity and innovation, investments in this area could reach €250bn over the next two years.