European Affairs

The EU Wants to Unleash the Full Potential of Information Technologies     Print Email

Viviane RedingAs the first European Commissioner to be responsible for both the Information Society and Media policies – that is for infrastructure and content – I face the challenge and the opportunity of helping to unleash the full potential of sectors that have become increasingly interdependent and have the capability to enrich one another.

The European Commission has placed economic growth and employment at the heart of its policy, and in June, 2005, it adopted a policy strategy paper known as i2010, European Information Society 2010, that paves the way for some very practical proposals. These will seek to make all sectors of the EU economy more competitive through better and wider use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to achieve our economic goals.

These initiatives rest on three pillars:

The first pillar involves establishing a “common information space,” built on a set of coherent rules governing the supply of content and services – and the operation of networks – irrespective of the underlying technologies used. Information society and media services, traditional telecoms networks, the Internet, computers and other devices are increasingly converging in Europe, as they are elsewhere. Developments in both the European Union and the United States, however, have been constrained by regulations originally designed for a bygone era.

As technologies and markets converge, therefore, policies must also converge to provide consumers and industry the legal certainty and confidence to invest in and embrace new technologies. The European Commission aims to keep regulation as light and as limited as possible. As competition among platforms increases, regulatory restrictions can be relaxed, leaving a greater role to the self-governing, competitive forces of the market.

In the near future, the Commission will focus on a number of issues, starting with content. The current regulation at Community level of broadcasting services dates back to 1989. Soon, telecommunications providers will be able to deliver broadcasting services of equal quality to traditional TV, while at the same time traditional content providers are entering the communications markets. For consumers, the platforms that deliver movies or TV broadcasts are becoming less and less important. Consumers will increasingly watch or listen to audiovisual content anytime, anywhere, on all technical platforms, whether they are TV sets, computers, mobile telephones or personal digital assistants. It has become clear that to take account of these developments, the present EU “Television Without Frontiers Directive” needs to be modernized, with a more flexible set of rules, adapted to the degree of control of the consumers.

The advent of film online offers immense opportunities for the film industry to reach new audiences and international markets. It also offers great opportunities for Internet Service Providers and access providers. More and more people will want broadband access if that is a good way to view high quality films. But the broadband industry’s business model cannot be built on a free rider system. There is an urgent need for a meaningful dialogue and for agreements between the film industry and service providers to ensure that online distribution takes place legally. Agreements between right holders and access providers will be beneficial – indeed essential – to both sides. The Commission already supports efforts to achieve this goal.

As far as electronic communications networks are concerned, the current regulatory framework has been widely implemented, with very concrete results in the market. Although implementation is not yet complete, we are determined to maintain the pressure on member states to achieve this goal. The framework’s flexibility, grounded in technology- neutrality and competition law principles, has provided regulators with a solid basis for handling the challenges as existing services are delivered over new infrastructures or in new ways. A review of the framework has started with a consultation on the future of universal service. We will continue in mid-2006 with a broader consultation on the functioning of the existing framework and on a possible new framework.

New high-speed wireless applications are driving demand for radio spectrum. The Commission wants to start implementing a coherent strategy for radio spectrum management in the 2006 review of our e-communications framework. This reform, however, will not be achieved overnight, and it will require a mix of vertical and horizontal actions, at both national and EU levels. Much work has been done to remove doubts in Europe about the opportunity of introducing spectrum trading as a way to empower the industry to make the strategic decisions on how to best use the radio spectrum.

The challenge now is to introduce functioning markets without undermining the benefits of an integrated European market in electronic communications. The Commission favors a market-based approach, which stresses the importance of spectrum flexibility. A debate is under way on a common spectrum approach for all wireless transmission platforms providing electronic communications services as we need to address the convergence trends we see between broadcasting, mobile communications and broadband wireless access.

If we succeed in adopting a flexible and coherent approach in Europe covering spectrum for all wireless access platforms, we will reduce constraints on access to spectrum, create a level playing field for investments, and make future spectrum markets more efficient. Here again there is a need to deal with our legacy and foresee a careful transition period, but the reward deserves such an effort.

Finally, the Commission expects that by the beginning of 2010, the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting will be well advanced in the European Union, and we therefore propose to switch off analogue terrestrial television by 2012, freeing valuable resources and opening new possibilities.

All these efforts will be useless, however, if we do not provide a secure environment for our communication networks, which are increasingly exposed to threats ranging from technology failures to malicious attacks. The European Union has recognized the need for coordinated EU action to complement national security initiatives. A big step forward was taken in March 2004 with the establishment of the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), which will advise and assist the Commission and the member states on network and information security. In seeking to develop a strategy for a secure information society, the Commission is considering how to improve the interoperability of security solutions and services. It is also examining the need for further research into Internet stability and network and information security, as well as ways to raise the awareness of users, to benchmark progress and to encourage the exchange of best practices.

The second pillar of i2010 is a drive to increase investment, given that Europe’s future competitiveness depends on sufficient investment in research, particularly in information and communications technologies. Europe invests only €80 per inhabitant in research each year, against €350 in the United States and €400 in Japan. Europe should nearly double its annual investment in ICT research to close the gap with the United States, and more than half the increase should come from the private sector.

The third pillar of i2010 is a campaign to provide better services for citizens and to make European society more inclusive. Improved and increased use of technology will help to meet growing demand for better health care, education and lifelong learning, provide a better quality of life for elderly people, and promote security and social inclusion.

While we are convinced that these initiatives will stimulate growth, employment and competitiveness, EU-U.S. relations will also have an important role to play. Despite our impressive economic ties, several obstacles continue to hinder Transatlantic trade and investment, mainly in the regulatory area. In addition, both the European Union and the United States also face serious internal and external economic challenges. While the United States has high budget and trade deficits, the European Union must address its disappointing growth rate; and we must both face competitive pressures from strongly growing economies such as China and India.

To address these issues, EU and U.S. leaders adopted a number of initiatives at an EU-U.S. summit meeting in Washington in June 2005. Firstly, we have taken a number of steps to reinforce regulatory cooperation, expanding some already successful joint initiatives. Building on the EU-U.S. Guidelines on Regulatory Cooperation and Transparency adopted in 2002 we agreed to:

• establish a senior-level dialogue to draft work programs;

• set up a High-Level Regulatory Co-operation Forum to promote regulatory cooperation between senior regulators;

• open a dialogue between the European Commission and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to address topics such as good regulatory practices, transparency provisions and public consultation, and methodologies for impact and risk assessment;

• implement a concrete roadmap for regulatory cooperation and reinforce other successful sectoral dialogues;

• encourage the discussion of standards issues;

• identify resources and mechanisms to support exchanges for regulatory experts;

• encourage legislators on both sides of the Atlantic to meet regularly.

In addition, we have agreed to discuss any significant remaining obstacles to Transatlantic investment and we have recognized the value of contributions from all interested parties, giving EU and U.S. regulators the possibility to organize meetings with such parties as appropriate.

Secondly, we are keenly aware of the importance of innovation and new technologies for the future of our economies. We have identified several areas for future cooperation including research and development; information and communications technologies; health and medical technologies; e-accessibility for the disabled, elderly and other citizens with accessibility problems; deployment of key innovative technologies such as broadband and radio frequency identification devices; collaboration on development and take-up of telematics for intelligent vehicles; cyber-security, international redress for international internet purchases; and spam, spyware and other malicious software.

I am particularly worried about the lack of effectiveness in the fight against spam. Spam is a real danger because it destroys the confidence of consumers in the Internet, and all governments must act more decisively against companies that facilitate its worldwide dissemination. We have also agreed on a declaration to support the effective protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights at home and abroad, in line with the highest international standards. Piracy is a crucial issue where the potential for cooperation already exists.

The European Union and the United States will also continue working to bring to the rest of the world many of the benefits that they are trying to achieve for their own people. On the economic side, our overriding priority is to conclude the WTO Doha Development Agenda, but other issues will provide us with the opportunity to address new challenges.

Both the United States and the European Union played important roles in the positive outcome of the World Summit on Information Society in Tunis in November. I hope that concrete steps will follow to fight the digital divide more effectively. The European Union has also signaled its priorities for Internet governance. These are to ensure the continued security and stability of the Internet; find ways to deal with spam; increase internationalization of the management of core Internet resources; and ensure that developing countries can better participate in this governance.

The continued stability and security of the Internet is essential. To date, the Internet has been provided almost entirely by private sector initiative and investment. We recognize this and applaud it. At the same time, more and more governments are asking themselves what they can do to ensure that this critical resource remains reliable and dependable.

I take note of the recent declaration of the U.S. administration on certain aspects of Internet governance. For Europe, it is crucial that the future approach to Internet governance is led by the principles of efficiency and openness, and not by considerations of internal policy. At the same time, it is interesting that the U.S. government has reaffirmed its willingness to pursue an “on-going dialogue with all stakeholders” on Internet governance.

The European Union feels that there is indeed room to exploit the potential for public-private partnership more effectively, and I note with satisfaction that the Tunis meeting decided the creation of a Forum on Internet issues.

As for the enhanced cooperation model for Internet governance which was also agreed in the conclusions of the Tunis meeting, I am of the opinion that we should largely build on existing governance structures. There is for the time being no appropriate mechanism or place where governments can meet to deliberate on common challenges and crucial issues regarding Internet governance.

Considering the economic importance of the Internet for Europe, notably its increasing weight in our trade relations with our main economic partners, it would be in our interest to work jointly on realistic solutions and I am confident that we shall succeed. It is clear, of course, that consideration of a better, more effective and inclusive model should not hamper the day-to-day operation of the Internet, and not undermine the good work carried out by organizations such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the role that the Internet community must keep playing. A key objective must be to help support private sector initiatives and investment and to promote innovation. In the coming months we shall explore how to implement the conclusions of Tunis on an enhanced cooperation model.

Viviane Reding is European Commissioner for Information Society and Media. She previously served as Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth, Media and Sport. Before that, she was a Member of the European Parliament where she served on several committees and also headed the Luxembourg delegation to the European People’s Party and was a member of the EPP group.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 6, Issue number 4 in the Fall of 2005.

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