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Thus, national governments are facing the challenge to find the right balance between
cultural services being charged for and those being offered free.
Lowering the technical barriers to providing access
Besides access costs, a national cultural heritage policy also needs to address the technical
challenges that currently hamper access to cultural heritage resources. On the one side, this
implies the availability of affordable, high-speed Internet access for all citizens, on the other
hand, it addresses the technical issues of providing access to digital resources via networks
which is primarily a question of convergence and interoperability.
Cheaper and faster Internet access even to the smallest village is the first objective of the
eEurope Action Plan which was launched in December 1999 by the European Commission
and agreed by the Heads of State and Government in Feira in June 2000.With the ratifi-
cation of the action plan, the European Member States committed themselves to realise the
objectives of faster and cheaper Internet access by implementing new tariff models and
lowering the price for high-speed multimedia Internet access made available by new
technologies such as xDSL, cable, optical fibre and digital TV, and next generation mobile.
In addition, national governments are also obliged to make the up-take of new technologies
a key element in regional development agendas, to help provide the necessary infrastructure
to make high-speed Internet available also in less favoured regions where private investment
alone cannot be profitable.Through the eEurope initiative, creating cheaper and faster
Internet access is well on its way in all EU Member States. (see eEurope Initiative: Council
of Europe, Commission of European Communities, 2000)
The second technological barrier that currently hampers access to digital cultural
heritage resources are related to difficulties users encounter when they try to search cultural
heritage databases almost seamlessly, across institutional and sector boundaries.The primary
issues with seamless access are closely related to the need to agree and use commonly shared
metadata standards for object description, and, as standards are products of consensus, the
collaborative process to reach such an agreement.These issues and the recommendations
that also demand action from national governments are described in more detail in
Chapter 9,"Technologies for tomorrow's digital cultural heritage".
Equal access to cultural heritage resources
As David Dawson, Senior ICT Advisor at Resource, the British council for museums,
archives and libraries remarked, a national cultural heritage policy that propagates access for
all also needs to take active steps to include visually impaired or otherwise disable persons.
Again, there is a connection with the eEurope initiative, that expects national govern-
ments to draft policies to avoid "info-exclusion" of people who need special attention due
to some disability. Similar to providing special constructions for disabled people to enter
public buildings, national governments need to take precaution that disabled people are not
excluded from the information society as more and more public sector information
becomes available online and in the future, many services will exclusively be delivered via
the Internet. As stated in the eEurope Action Plan:"Public sector web sites and their
content in Member States and in the European Institutions must be designed to be
accessible to ensure that citizens with disabilities can access information (...)." (Council of
the European Union, Commission of the European Communities, 2000)
Of course, this remains also true for cultural heritage information offered over computer
networks, which should comply to "Design for all" standards for accessibility as currently
developed within the eEurope initiative.