The government plans to create a 2.1-billion-euro high-speed Internet network all across the country that it says will help to close the digital gap separating Greece from the rest of Europe. Transport and Communications Minister Evripidis Stylianidis said yesterday that the Greek state will fund one-third of the plan, investing some 700 million euros to create a fiberoptic network that will give 2 million Greek homes access to broadband services over the next seven years. The remaining 1.4 billion euros will come from as many as three private investors with initial contracts of 30 years. «I can assure you that there has been positive movement in this direction,» he told reporters. An independent state body is to be set up to manage the network that companies such as mobile phone providers will be able to use to offer their services. Data on fast Internet penetration shows that Greece is one of the European Union’s laggards, despite strong growth rates in recent years. Broadband Internet penetration reached 15.6 percent of the population at the end of June, placing Greece in position number 23 among the European Union’s 27 member states, after Hungary. The new project, called Fiber to the Home, plans to hook up Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as 52 other municipalities, helping to promote electronic trade and e-governance by offering more users faster download times than currently available. «The benefit of the project is that it will bridge the digital gap between the [city] centers and regional districts, providing equal opportunities for all Greeks,» the minister added. About 90 percent of people in Greece consider the project important and more than 80 percent say state involvement and support are necessary, according to survey results presented by the ministry. The draft bill on the new Internet network will be open to public discussion up until the start of September when it is expected to be submitted to Parliament.