Digitization is advancing in Europe, but there are still many challenges to overcome. According to the latest Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) report released by the European Union (EU), almost nine out of ten Europeans over the age of 16 use the internet regularly, but only about half of them have basic digital skills.
Digital skills are one of the main areas to be developed in European digitalisation, and there are great differences between EU countries. According to the DESI report, only 54% of EU citizens have skills considered essential digital skills, such as digital information management, internet communication and collaboration skills, digital content creation and cybersecurity. However, the percentage varies widely between EU countries; While 80% of Finns have these basic skills, only 30% of Romanians have these basic skills. Spain is in a middle position with around 65% of its citizens having basic digital skills.
The digitization of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) also remains a challenge in Europe. The DESI report highlights that SMEs still have less access to digital services and solutions than large companies, limiting them in terms of competition and growth.
The report also identified a widespread shortage of information and communication technology (ICT) specialists in the labor market. 55% of companies that wanted to employ ICT specialists in 2020 had difficulty filling these positions. Also, there is a significant gender gap, as only 19% of ICT professionals and 33% of workers in science, technology and engineering careers are women. The EU aims to double the number of workers in the ICT sector from the current nine million to 20 million before the end of the decade.
Regarding connectivity infrastructures, the DESI report shows that EU countries are making progress, albeit at different speeds. The DESI report shows that 70% of households in Europe have access to a fixed broadband connection and 50% to a fiber optic connection. However, there are large differences between countries such as Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark, Malta, Luxembourg and Latvia with broadband penetration rates above 90%, and EU countries with Greece having a penetration rate of 20%.
The report also identifies a gap in rural connectivity, with less than 40% of rural households having fixed broadband access. Regarding mobile broadband, the report shows that 5G coverage reaches 66% of populated areas in the EU. However, radio spectrum allocation is progressing more slowly than expected, and some countries are seeing high network penetration rates as 5G is mostly rolled out in cities.
Overall, the DESI report shows that digitalization in Europe is making progress, but there are still challenges to overcome. Digital skills and digitization of SMEs remain pending areas alongside the lack of ICT specialists and the gender gap in the industry. Also, while broadband connectivity is improving, there are still significant disparities between EU countries and a gap in rural connectivity. The EU and its member states must continue to work together to overcome these challenges and take full advantage of the potential of digitization to improve the economy and society in Europe.
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