As modern communication technologies have transformed how Europeans live, work and interact, the EU has played a vital supporting role.
Although the information revolution – mobile phones, the internet, high-speed digital delivery systems – is driven by technology and market forces, the EU has been at the heart of the process:
The result for individuals and businesses is cheaper, more reliable and higher quality services. Consumer choice has widened in terms of both suppliers and services – and in response to all this, demand for mobile telephones and internet access has exploded.
One of the majority – a regular internet user.
With the convergence of communications and broadcasting technology via digitisation, in 2003 the EU had to introduce rules covering all electronic communications networks and services.
Now these rules are under review, with a new focus on:
The rules are applied independently by the authorities in each EU country, with national regulators coordinating their policies at EU level through forums like the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, BEREC (former European Regulators Group (ERG).
The review is seeking to further simplify the rules by having BEREC take over part of the regulatory function, thereby being a single agency for the whole of Europe.
Information technologies are now a major part of Europe's economic growth strategy – specifically in the form of its Digital agenda, which outlines policies and measures to maximise the benefit of the digital revolution for all.
To achieve this goal, the Commission works closely with national governments and relevant organisations and companies. An annual Digital Agenda Assembly brings these stakeholders together to assess progress and emerging challenges.
Although more than half of all Europeans are regular internet users, and mobile phone penetration is even higher, the EU wants to maximise the use of information technologies.
If the EU is to have an efficient and competitive economy:
Specific action by the EU to achieve this includes:
The key enabling technology is broadband internet access, providing fast, cheap and permanent online communication. Nearly 30% of EU households have broadband access, although the figures are lower for the countries that have joined the EU since 2004.
The drive is on to connect schools, universities, libraries, museums and similar institutions to broadband networks. Some 96% of schools in the EU are now online, 67% with high-speed broadband.
EU governments are also starting to provide online health services to their citizens, including information on illness prevention, online health records, remote consultations and electronic reimbursement of medical expenses.