20 Million Euros for Digital Development of Rural Croatian Areas

May the 11th, 2023 - A massive 20 million euros is set to be pumped into the digital development of rural Croatian areas which still struggle with weak mobile signals. These so-called white zones where there is no high-speed mobile signal doesn't allow the normal use of digital technologies.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Darko Bicak writes, as Oleg Butkovic, the Minister of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure, announced last week, the aforementioned issue should soon finally be resolved through a project financed from the National Recovery and Resilience Plan 2021-2026.

More rural Croatian areas are the targets for improvement

"In terms of the development of the 5G network, we're in the lead in terms of Europe, and we have a significant competitive advantage in terms of qualified workforce in the ICT sector, as well as regulations that enable so-called digital nomads. There's also a project under way that will cover areas across fourteen different counties with a high-speed mobile signal, and these are all places that currently don't have high-quality internet," explained Minister Butkovic.

However, while Croatia may well be performing well when it comes to 5G, the country remains at the very end of the line in terms of actual coverage with 4G and 3G networks, which is why the government has launched the public discussion procedure entitled "A call for expressions of interest for the development and implementation of passive electronic communication infrastructure in rural and sparsely populated areas". It is worth around twenty million euros in total.

This document defines the target areas for the possible construction of electronic communication infrastructure as part of such an investment. As stated by the proponent, the preparation of the Feasibility Study is underway and, following this and a public consultation on the expression of market interest, the final areas for the implementation of the investment in question will be determined.

"The investment's target areas are rural Croatian areas that include parts of counties with extremely low socio-economic indicators, meaning those primarily characterised by extremely low demographic, social and economic conditions compared to the national average," the Maritime Affairs Ministry stated, adding that investment in Croatia's 5G networks must be located in areas where mobile networks haven't been introduced or where only mobile networks that can support mobile services up to 3G are available and where there are no 4G or 5G mobile networks, nor is their introduction planned within the next three years.

It is estimated that around 58 poles will be installed, however, the exact selection of their locations and their final numbers will be defined only by the Feasibility Study, the preparation of which is currently underway. In the proposal, it has been noted that the poles won't be placed in all acceptable areas defined through this public consultation, but in those confirmed by the Study as possible locations that will justify the economic profitability of the investment.

As part of the Study, the exact needs for certain types of communication and the need for signal coverage in precisely defined areas will be determined, and in accordance with the results, passive infrastructure will be built to connect the infrastructure points. Croatia also lags behind the EU average in this area (broadband infrastructure coverage), and although in the category of new generation fixed broadband network coverage, it has equaled the EU average, it is still far behind in the widespread use of 100 Mbps broadband access and isn't ready for the introduction of a 5G network.

In addition to all of the above, due to high construction costs and a reduced population, there are insufficient investments in digital development in more rural Croatian areas in general.