Andżelika Mirska, University of Warsaw
Relevance of the Practice
The new information technology has and will have a crucial impact on the quality of life in the urban and rural area.
In Poland in 2019 83 per cent households have Internet access at home. It was 90 per cent in large cities, 85.6 per cent in medium-sized cities and 84.6 per cent in rural areas. Poland attains an average result comparing to the other European Union countries. The highest rate of Internet access is in the Netherlands – 98 per cent of households has an access to the Internet. The lowest one occurs in Bulgaria which is 72 per cent. The average one in EU was 89 per cent.
There is no problem of lack of the Internet access in the common public perception in Poland. For this reason, the information provided by the Office of Electronic Communications of Poland is surprising. Almost 3.6 thousand inhabited places in Poland did not have access to the network in 2018. It also proves that the situation has worsened compared to 2017. Then, only 2.8 thousand places were ‘white blanks’ on the map of the Internet access. The following reasons of the phenomenon can be indicated. Firstly, mobile operators sometimes switch off and move the transmitters’ masts. Secondly, bankruptcies occur among telecommunications companies. Thirdly, it may be the issue of inaccurate (imprecise) data submitted by operators to the Office of Electronic Communications. In the Office Electronic Communications Report dated 2020, the method of identifying a locality without Internet access has been changed.It is established that the previous reports comprised of uninhabited localities still included in the ‘System for IDs and names of places’. The data verification proved 8 localities (with 15 inhabited houses) without Internet access in Poland.
However, there is still a problem with the network access in Poland as a large part of households is deprived of the Internet connections to meet today’s expectations (so-called NGA, with a minimum speed of 30 Mb/s). In 2019, households (inhabited by people aged 16 – 74) with access to broadband fixed-line Internet (e.g. DSL) represented:
- in cities with more than 100,000 residents: 69.7 per cent;
- in cities below 100,000 residents: 61.4 per cent;
- in the villages: 55.7 per cent;
- in the villages (households created exclusively by farmers): 50.5 per cent.
This issue became even more apparent with the prospect of the pandemic Covid-19.
The main barriers to the development of digitization in the coming years include: low profitability and high costs of connecting the Internet network to places away from urban centers (the more peripheral the area, the worse the situation is), an ageing society, and thus, limited competences of this group with the Internet use, little awareness of the advantages of digital solutions.
Description of the Practice
Providing internet services is the domain of private enterprises. However, the public administration is responsible for building the information society in Poland. These tasks are divided between the central administration, regional government and local government. The EU funds are a major source of financing for the expansion of Internet networks in Poland. There are EUR 2,255.6 million in the Operational Program ‘Digital Poland’ 2014 – 2020.
The basic tasks of the regional government in terms of building the information society include:
- the development and implementation of a regional program of building the information society and its coordination with the strategic documents of the national and European level;
- the development and implementation of regional projects in terms of building IT networks;
- the coordination and support in the accomplishment of regional and sub-regional activities for the benefit of IT networks;
- the activities coordination in terms of launching public e-services;
- the support of economic potential of the region by ensuring the elimination of ‘white blanks’ in access to broadband Internet services;
- the activity coordination in terms of digital inclusion of residents;
- the activities support for the e-government establishment in the voivoidship.
Local government activities focus on:
- launching local information society services in terms of e-health, e-education, e-culture and e-administration;
- measures aimed at reducing the scale of the digital divide;
- supporting the investment competitiveness of the local market, e.g. by providing economic entities with access to the Internet and e-services.
The Act of 7 May 2010 on Supporting the Development of Telecommunications Networks and Services authorized the local government to perform a new task in the field of telecommunications. Therefore, the construction of telecommunications infrastructure has become the commune’s own task – similarly, the construction of, for example, the sewage system, local roads or a gas network. Local governments can apply for EU funding from the Polish state budget, and create public-private partnerships.
The purpose of the act was to facilitate investments in modern telecommunications infrastructure and to provide access to broadband Internet to all citizens, regardless of the place of living – in the city or in the village. The activities of the local government should focus on implementing investments in the areas where the phenomenon of digital divide has been researched and commercial operators do not conduct and do not intend to conduct investments independently. The effective preventing of communes from independently running or participating in income-related projects will be the consequence of this approach.
Thus, local development strategies aimed at overcoming the digital divide between rural and urban areas and exploiting the rural development potential through connectivity and digitization are crucial.
Assessment of the Practice
A further outflow of people from peripheral areas, mainly rural, including both areas dominated by agriculture and small urban centers will be seen in Poland by 2030. Therefore, the pressure to support restructuring processes in rural areas will increase. One of the key factors determining current development is access to high-speed internet for residents (access to education, health care, culture, banking, etc.), entrepreneurs and public administration.
The private telecommunications operators cannot be forced by the law to build networks in unprofitable places. Therefore, the Act of 7 May 2010 on Supporting the Development of Telecommunications Networks and Services by Parliament made the local government responsible for counteracting the digital divide in its area. Through financial incentives (funds from the state budget, funds from the European Union), the central government intends to motivate the local government to act in this area.
The decision concerning the form of creating the broadband Internet networks can be made by local governments. The form may concern a budgetary establishment, public-private partnership or commissioning this task to a private company. It should be emphasized that this is a voluntary government task. The implementation of this task will be decided by a local government depending on social needs and its capabilities (similarly, in the case of, for example, the construction of a gas network). Moreover, the local government has to prove that its activity in this regard will not distort competition on the local telecommunications market.
For this reason, EU funds provide a number of financial support programs as well as support programs from the Polish Government to motivate communes to perform this activity. The financial offer is referred especially to rural areas.
The most beneficial variants of investment and ICT network operation for the local government depend on the local government place and role on the telecommunications services market. The different situation is in large cities where local operators also build their networks and provide Internet access, cable TV services, etc. apart from the infrastructure of nationwide operators. The market is often monopolized by a single infrastructure owner and service provider in smaller towns.
The process of public consultation is crucial. It allows to indicate areas in which the implementation of local government investments is justified, and to define Internet services concerning residents’ interest.
Financing the construction of the Internet network by local governments may come from
- subventions or a targeted grant from the state budget;
- an EU fund;
- revenues from conducting telecommunications activities;
- own resources of local government units.
A resolution of the local government authority is necessary to start telecommunications activities and an Internet network construction. In addition, the information about the commencement of telecommunications activities must be announced on the website of the Bulletin of Public Information and submitted to the President of the Office of Electronic Communications of Poland. The information must contain a description of the project and a justification necessary for the local government to prove that this activity does not distort competition on the local telecommunications market. The local government is also required to demonstrate the compatibility with other telecommunications networks established by public entities or financed from public funds.
Currently, (as of June 2020), 454 local government units performing such activities are registered in the ‘Register of Local Government Units performing activities in the field of telecommunications’ kept by the Office of Electronic Communications. These are small rural communes and as well as the government of the Mazowieckie Voivodeship constructing an Internet network in rural areas.
The Wi-Fi network is an alternative to broadband Internet. For instance, the WiFi4EU Initiative supports free wireless internet access in public spaces such as parks, squares, public buildings, libraries, health centers and museums in communes. Communes can apply for vouchers worth 15,000 euro within the WiFi4EU initiative. These vouchers are used to cover the costs of installing Wi-Fi hotspots in communes’ public places not offering this type of free public access to the Internet yet.
Providing Internet access and countervailing digital exclusion is particularly important for the implementation of the smart village concept in Poland.
The concept of smart village is a response to the idea of a smart city. The aim is to countervail the divisions between villages and cities and to raise the standard of living of rural residents. However, the point is not to make the village resemble a city, but to have equal development opportunities. Likewise, this concept is also defined by the European Commission. Therefore, digital technologies and innovations can support the quality of life and a higher standard of public services for citizens, enable better use of resources, improve agricultural production, and reduce the burden of work. Finally, more environmentally friendly solutions can be created. Consequently, depopulation in rural areas is possible to be countervailed. Certainly, the concept of ‘smart’ is much extensive referring to digital technologies and involves a range of social, economic and environmental innovation issues. However, it is difficult to implement the assumptions of this concept without access to the Internet.
In Poland, the discussion on smart village is just initiated. Nevertheless, the first support programs and competitions financed from EU funds are already underway. This discussion contributes to rural development activities and the promotion of the concept of sustainable development. Thus, as well as cities can be ‘smart’ now, rural areas intended to become attractive for residents and entrepreneurs. Therefore, the digital exclusion of rural areas is one of the barriers to be overcome. In this respect, local governments can take action and join the process of building an information society in rural areas.
References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications
— —, ‘Planning for Smart Villages in Poland’ (European Network for Rural Development, 21 November 2019) <https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/news-events/news/planning-smart-villages-poland_en>
Information society in Poland, ‘Results of statistical surveys in the years 2015–2019’ (Statistics Poland, 16 December 2019) <File:///C:/Users/UW/AppData/Local/Temp/spoleczenstwo_informacyjne_w_polsce_-_wyniki_badan_statystycznych_z_lat_2015-2019.pdf> accessed 1 July 2020
Wasilewski A, Floriańczyk Z and Wigier M, ‘Governance of Internet development in rural areas in the context of territorial competitiveness: the case of Poland’ in Paweł Chmieliński and Agnieszka Baer-Nawrocka (eds), Knowledge as a factor of rural development. Rural areas and development – (10th vol, European Rural Development Network 2013)
Website of the Smart Villages Pilot Project, <http://www.pilotproject-smartvillages.eu/>
Website of the Institute of Rural and Agricultural Development of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IRWiR PAN), <http://smart.irwirpan.waw.pl/>
 Information society in Poland, ‘Results of statistical surveys in the years 2015–2019’ (Statistics Poland, 16 December 2019) <https://stat.gov.pl/en/topics/science-and-technology/information-society/> accessed 1 July 2020, 152.
 Urszula Zielińska, Stan infrastruktury w Polsce w 2018 roku: przybyło białych plam na mapie internetu <https://cyfrowa.rp.pl/telekomunikacja/40911-stan-infrastruktury-w-polsce-w-2018-roku-przybylo-bialych-plam-na-mapie-internetu 9 lipca 2019> accessed 1 July 2020.
 The system is managed by the Central Statistical Office of Poland.
 Office of Electronic Communications, ‘Report on the Telecommunications Market in Poland in 2019’ (2020) 80 <https://www.uke.gov.pl/download/gfx/uke/pl/defaultaktualnosci/36/345/9/raport_o_stanie_rynku_telekomunikacyjnego_w_polsce_w_2019_r_4.09.pdf> accessed 1 October 2020.
 ‘The Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Public Administration Units, Enterprises and Households in 2019’ (Statistics Poland, 1 June 2020) <https://stat.gov.pl/obszary-tematyczne/nauka-i-technika-spoleczenstwo-informacyjne/spoleczenstwo-informacyjne/wykorzystanie-technologii-informacyjno-komunikacyjnych-w-jednostkach-administracji-publicznej-przedsiebiorstwach-i-gospodarstwach-domowych-w-2019-roku,3,18.html> accessed 15 October 2020.
 The Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy <https://www.polskacyfrowa.gov.pl> accessed 20 July 2020.
 In this case, consultation is optional. The Act of 8 March 1990 on gmina Self-Government distinguishes obligatory (e.g. on changing the commune boundaries) and optional consultations ‘in other important issues of gmina’. The rules and procedure for conducting consultations with citizens are defined by each gmina in its territory (it is a resolution of the commune council). For example, such consultations were conducted in the rural Gmina of Kochanowice (7,000 residents), in the rural Gmina of Mstów (10,000 residents), and the rural Gmina of Zabór (4,000 residents). See the respective websites of the municipalities of Kochanowice, <http://kochanowice.pl/konsultacje-spoleczne-w-sprawie-budowy-sieci-swiatlowodowej-w-gminie-kochanowice/>, Mstów, <http://www.mstow.pl/art/911,inwestycje-konsultacje-spoleczne-w-sprawie-budowy-sieci-swiatlowodowej-w-gminie-mstow-02-02-2010> and Zabór, <http://gminazabor.pl/PL/1000/343/KONSULTACJE_W_SPRAWIE__SIECI_SWIATLOWODOWEJ/k/> accessed 15 October 2020.
 The Office of Electronic Communications was established on 14 January 2006. The President of the Office of Electronic Communications is a central regulatory authority responsible for telecommunications and postal activities and frequency resources management. It’s also a supervisory authority responsible for controlling compliance of products emitting or vulnerable to emission of electromagnetic field, including radio equipment placed on the market in Poland.
 The Act of 7 May 2010 on Supporting the Development of Telecommunications Networks and Services.
 Ewelina Fornalczyk, ‘Rejestr Jednostek Samorządu Terytorialnego wykonujących działalność w zakresie telekomunikacji’ (Urząd Komunikacji Elektronicznej, 30 December 2019) <https://bip.uke.gov.pl/rjst> accessed 14 July 2020.
Joanna Czechowicz-Bieniek, ‘Informacja prasowa – Zakończyła się budowa sieci szerokopasmowego internetu na Mazowszu – największy projekt informatyczny w Europie’ (Samorząd Województwa Mazowieckiego, 23 December 2015) <https://www.mazovia.pl/dla-mediow/informacje-prasowe/art,3577,zakonczyla-sie-budowa-sieci-szerokopasmowego-internetu-na-mazowszu-najwiekszy-projekt-informatyczny-w-europie.html>
accessed 15 July 2020.
 ‘WiFi4EU – Free Wi-Fi for Europeans’ (European Commission, last update 29 July 2020) <https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/wifi4eu-pytania-i-odpowiedzi> accessed 15 July 2020.
 ‘Badania Naukowe i wiedza’ (European Network for Rural Development, 8 June 2020) <https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/smart-and-competitive-rural-areas/smart-villages/smart-villages-portal/eu-networks-organisations-research_pl> accessed 15 July 2020.
 Funding by European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas, which does not support the construction of internet infrastructure.
 For example: Ostoja Natury in the ‘Smart Rural 21’ project, see ‘Ostoja Natury with Subsidies under the Rural Development Program’ (Ostoja Natury) <https://ostojanatury.pl/nowosci/ostoja-natury-with-subsidies-under-the-rural-development-program/> and ‘Ostoja Natury in the “Smart Rural 21” project’ (Ostoja Natury) <https://ostojanatury.pl/nowosci/ostoja-natury-in-the-smart-rural-21-project/> accessed 15 October 2020.
 Smart Wieś, <http://www.smartwies.pl/> accessed 15 July 2020.