That’s what Michael Bartholomew, Director of the European Telecommunications Network Operations Association, called broadband technology during today’s “Broadband: Ready to Invest” panel.

“It is absolutely essential to Europe’s economy and well-being,” he told the crowd. By 2020, he said, all households in Europe should have access to 30 Mbps, and half should be subscribing to 100 Mbps. “The goals are very ambitious, and given the current [economic] situation, it’s very challenging.”

But, Bartholomew said, “talk is cheap, and broadband is expensive.” And helping overcome this problem in the U.S. is Johnathan Adelstein, Rural Utilities Services Program Administrator at the Department of Agriculture. His office oversees the $2.5 billion from President Obama’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act that is dedicated to deploying broadband networks into lesser-served communities throughout the U.S.

“We are now doing for broadband what we did for electricity so many years ago,” he said. During the next few years, he said these fiber deployment projects will reach 6 million people in 46 states, 350,000 businesses and more than 1 million K-12 children, in addition to healthcare and higher education organizations.

Low income areas are the most targeted with the projects, he said. Still, he noted, large gaps in coverage will remain after the awards are given to communities.

The information and communications sector is a core driver for economic growth and job creation throughout Europe and the U.S.  Gabrielle Gauthey, EVP of Global Government & Public Affairs at Alcatel-Lucent, said government organizations should partner with private telecommunications companies to achieve ubiquitous coverage of high-speed connectivity and to tackle future challenges, such as ensuring low-income areas and older populations are served. Government can also foster new competition through  public-private partnerships, she said.

Driving growth in broadband are mobile devices, said Thomas J. Sugrue , vice president of Government Affairs at T-Mobile USA.  He called the need to open up more spectrum for U.S. telecom providers essential to industry growth. “Spectrum really is the lifeblood” of mobility, he said.

Also at the panel, IBM’s Steven Adler shared the InfoGov Community, which connects IT/ICT officials directly with thought leaders in world-leading enterprises. Learn more about the company’s program by clicking here.

Lastly, some eye-opening figures from Bartholomew: Just 1.2 percent of European households have fiber. In the U.S., that figure is 2.4 percent. And in Japan? 35 percent.