European Commissioner Neelie Kroes has outlined her vision of a single market to allow Europeans to prosper from the digital era, including bold proposals on opening up access to legal online content by simplifying copyright clearance, management and cross-border licensing.
Kroes’ Digital Agenda for Europe unveiled by the European Commission is built on the basis that digital will contribute significantly to the EU’s economic growth and will spread the benefits of the digital era to all sections of society.
As revealed by Siliconrepublic.com, European nations will be obliged to present their various digital strategies to the EU as part of a peer review process.
The most important target for 2020 is to have internet speeds of 30Mbps or higher for all European citizens, with half of European households subscribing to connections of 100Mbps or higher.
Today, only 1pc of Europeans have a fast fibre-based internet connection, compared to 12pc of Japanese and 15pc of South Koreans.
Half of European productivity growth over the past 15 years has already been driven by ICT technology and according to Kroes this trend is likely to accelerate.
“We must put the interests of Europe’s citizens and businesses at the forefront of the digital revolution and so maximise the potential of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to advance job creation, sustainability and social inclusion,” Kroes said.
“The ambitious strategy set out today shows clearly where we need to focus our efforts in the years to come. To fully realise the potential of Europe’s digital future we need the full commitment of member States, the ICT sector and other vital economic players.”
The agenda outlines seven priority areas for action: creating a digital single market, greater interoperability, boosting internet trust and security, much faster internet access, more investment in research and development, enhancing digital literacy skills and inclusion, and applying information and communications technologies to address challenges facing society, like climate change and the ageing population.
Examples of benefits include easier electronic payments and invoicing, rapid deployment of telemedicine and energy efficient lighting. In these seven areas, the Digital Agenda foresees some 100 follow-up actions, of which 31 would be legislative.
The single digital market
In terms of the new single market, Kroes pointed out that at present there are four times as many music downloads in the US as in the EU because of legalities and fragmented markets.
It intends to open up access to legal online content by simplifying copyright clearance, management and cross border licensing. Other actions include making electronic payments and invoicing easier, and simplifying online dispute resolution.
The second objective of the Digital Agenda is to improve standard-setting and interoperability.
Kroes pointed out that Europeans will not embrace technology they do not trust and to feel confident and safe online the EU will endeavour to provide a better co-ordinated response to cyber attacks via reinforced rules on personal data protection. Actions could also oblige website operators to inform their users about security breaches affecting personal data.
In terms of the 30Mbps broadband-for-all plan, Kroes said the Commission will explore how to attract investment in broadband through credit enhancement mechanisms and will give guidance on how to encourage investments in fibre-based networks.
The Digital Agenda, Kroes said, aims to boost cutting-edge research and innovation in ICT. She said Europe must invest more in R&D and ensure our best ideas reach the market. The agenda aims to inter alia leverage private investments with European regional funding and increasing EU research funding to ensure that Europe keeps up with and even surpasses its competition. EU investment in ICT research is less than half of US levels (€37bn compared to €88bn in 2007).
Another key aspect of the agenda is to empower all Europeans with digital skills and accessible online services. More than half of Europeans (250 million) use the internet every day, but another 30pc have never used it. Everyone, young and old, irrespective of social background, is entitled to the knowledge and skills they need to be part of the digital era since commerce, public, social and health services, learning and political life is increasingly moving online.
Ultimately, Kroes said, the Digital Agenda seeks to unleash the potential of ICT to benefit society. “We need to invest in the smart use of technology and the exploitation of information to seek solutions to reduce energy consumption, support ageing citizens, empower patients and improve online access for people with disabilities.”
One aim would be that by 2015 patients could have access to their online medical records wherever they were in the EU. The agenda will also boost energy saving ICT technologies, like solid state lighting technology (SSL) that uses 70pc less energy than standard lighting systems.
The provisions of the EU’s Digital Agenda were welcomed by licensed telecoms group ALTO. “A fully functioning single market would benefit consumers and businesses by bringing wider choice, lower prices and higher broadband speeds” said ALTO chairman Ronan Lupton.
“A ‘seamless regulatory space’ is needed to foster both competition and efficient, sustainable investment; delivering innovative services at affordable prices for all European citizens. Commission guidance is crucial to ensure that the most fundamental single market principles such as non-discrimination and access to bottleneck infrastructure at fair prices are applied consistently across Europe.
ALTO also welcomes the Commission’s confirmation of the EU2020 strategy’s key action to encourage the deployment of open and competitive next-generation access networks.
“The forthcoming recommendation on next-generation access is a key opportunity for the Commission to systematically and firmly eliminate competitive failures,” commented the ALTO chairman. Today, consumers and businesses are losing €25bn per year and broadband speeds are being restricted due to uncompetitive telecoms markets.
“The Commission’s Digital Competitiveness Report released yesterday also found that competition is stagnating and incumbents are regaining market share in some countries. This underlines the need for strong Commission action to tackle discrimination and unfair access prices by dominant operators and reinvigorate competition. ”
ALTO warns that the single market objective will be undermined and consumers and businesses will be forced to pay a high price if competition rules are systematically relaxed in regions where telecoms companies enter into closed co-investment deals.
“If non-Europe costs €25bn today, what would be the price of a regionally fragmented Europe? Regionally differentiated pricing rules mean even higher prices for consumers and businesses trying to make a living outside big cities” added Lupton.
By John Kennedy