Globalisation and the information society: the need for strengthened international coordination
To meet the new challenges of globalisation, this communication identifies the areas relevant to telecommunications and new electronic services which require strengthened international cooperation. The objective is to reach wider agreement at international level on how to proceed with a view to creating a frontier-free electronic market while respecting the public interest.
Communication from the Commission of 4 February 1998 to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: "The Globalisation of the Information Society: the need for strengthened international coordination" [COM(98) 50 final - not published in the Official Journal].
A truly global electronic market is emerging. Its origins are to be found in the strong growth witnessed over the last two decades in the field of telephony and, more recently, GSM mobile communications. This development has been accompanied by rapidly falling prices in the wake of lower costs and more intense competition, and by the rapid development of data networks, especially the Internet.
About a hundred countries are now connected to the Internet. At the last count there were about 20 million "Internet hosts" worldwide. It is estimated that there will be 250 million Internet users by the year 2000. These developments mean that communications are not solely a global commercial activity, but are also supporting the globalisation and networking of economic activities.
Various public bodies (ITU, ISO, ETSI, CEPT etc.) have been created in the telecommunications sector to supervise agreements on technical issues and promote the interconnection and interoperability of networks, standards and national frequencies.
The Internet community is working towards open standards that will permit interoperability and competition. The existence of open standards is proving particularly important with regard to hardware and software tools required for accessing and using the Internet.
The electronic market will boost globalisation, which, as international trade data show, is gaining in intensity. The share of the world income has more than tripled since 1950.
A number of agreements have given additional impetus to these trends, especially those concluded under the auspices of the WTO, and the GATT, GATS and TRIPS agreements which, together with the recent agreement on telecommunications services, will continue to play an important role in trade liberalisation.
One of the major obstacles to the development of advanced communication services is the high cost of telecommunications. However, cost reductions associated with competition are pushing tariffs down, creating a single world infrastructure where physical distances are of diminishing importance.
The principle is that the legal frameworks governing the "off-line" world will have to be applied to the "on-line" world, and that public interest will need to be protected in an appropriate manner. However, the technical possibilities of open networks such as the Internet are already testing existing legal structures in numerous fields (taxation, intellectual property, legal competence, labour law, data protection, consumer protection, etc.).
The on-line world economy requires a suitable framework covering technical, commercial and legal aspects. This should encourage the interoperability of technical solutions and competitive practices and the application of compatible rules. However, there is no need for detailed harmonised rules on all aspects.
The above analysis clearly shows that these issues have growing legal implications. It is therefore becoming more and more essential to solve them on a worldwide basis since the uncertainties surrounding the various solutions will constitute obstacles to the development of a worldwide electronic market.
For the moment, a detailed examination of the problems and priorities is urgently required, so that the international community can tackle them in a systematic, coordinated manner.
Opportunities for exchange of information (round tables of national experts from the Member States, forums etc.) can help identify and solve problems.
Wherever possible, the Commission will support activities which give all concerned the opportunity to make their views known in a more coordinated way and to exchange information.
It is also important, however, to make these opinions known to policy decision makers at world level. These issues should be brought up at international ministerial events to be held in 1998 and an international ministerial conference should be organised for the end of 1998 or the beginning of 1999.
All those concerned should consider the options for concerted actions. It is not a question of establishing a new international monitoring authority or a set of binding rules. Rather, they will have to reach a forward-looking agreement geared towards the best means of devising common approaches to the problems and their solutions, i.e. developing an ongoing coordination procedure which takes appropriate account of public and private interests.
This could be done at multilateral level under an international charter which would:
- contain a multilateral agreement on a method of coordination, aimed at dismantling the obstacles to worldwide electronic trading;
- have non-binding legal status;
- take into account the work already being done by existing international authorities;
- encourage the participation of the private sector and of the social groups concerned;
- contribute to greater regulatory transparency.