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Brussels, 13 October 2003

World Standards Day, 14 October: Global standards for the Global Information Society

World Standards Day on 14 October will focus on the role of Standards for the Information Society. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) standards have a direct bearing on almost all aspects of our life: business and commerce, finance and banking, healthcare and education, transport and tourism, and public administration. This year's World Standards Day will also pave the way to an EU-US dialogue on ICT standards to exchange early warnings on potential technical barriers to global solutions for the Information Society. Europe's contribution to this dialogue include a recognition of the importance of open standards in order to stimulate competitive innovation in ICT goods and services worldwide. The UN World Summit on the Information Society to be held in December 2003 in Geneva, is also expected to recognise the importance of open and international standards, in line with the European approach. The World Standards Day is an opportunity to explain to citizens the importance of standards, and their potential to enhance the inclusiveness of European society. To mark the occasion, Commissioner Liikanen invited Commission staff to a workshop on 14 October to learn more about the European standards organisations and how they work.

Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said: “Open standards are important to help create interoperable and affordable solutions for everybody. They also promote competition by setting up a technical playing field that is level to all market players. This means lower costs for enterprises and, ultimately, the consumer.”

The Commission considers standards developed under open and transparent procedures by bodies like the European organizations CEN, CENELEC and ETSI or the international organizations ISO, IEC and ITU as contributors to economic development and to the Global Information Society.

“We need certain basic rules and regulations for the Information Society to yield all its benefits and we have to have a framework in place that protects enterprises and citizens, that fosters innovation and that avoids unnecessary technical barriers” said the Commissioner. He added: “Open standards are an ideal way to support such a framework.” Indeed, European enterprises have been at the cutting edge of the digital era and helped create interoperable standards solutions in fields such as mobile communications and digital broadcasting.

Recently, there were European concerns that US anti-terrorism measures adopted after the tragic events of 11 September 2001 risked becoming the source of new transatlantic trade frictions.

A newly established EU-US dialogue will allow for an early exchange of information on ICT standards, for instance for security solutions, as a complement to the EU-US Guidelines on Regulatory Cooperation. Both sides plan to inform each other about ICT standards, in cases where regulations foresee the use of standards, or where standards are used to pursue public policy objectives. Technical barriers in the Information Society can, among other things, result from legal recognition of diverging or conflicting technical standards. In other words, governments may select different incompatible standards, although they pursue the same regulatory objectives. This can lead to market distortion and trade frictions.

The UN World Summit on the Information Society, which will be held in Geneva from 10 to 12 December 2003, is expected to recognize that standardisation is one of the essential building blocks of the Information Society, as well as the importance of open and international standards with a view to providing more affordable access to ICTs, particularly in developing countries.

The EU promotes global standards that are inclusive for all parts of the Information Society: e-accessibility is one of the topics tackled under the European year of the disabled. Standards are expected to improve the situation. E-accessibility are "online access ramps" or "ramps to the Internet". This reflects the need to ensure disabled people's access to information society services. Standardisation initiatives in support of "e-accessibility" are expected to shortly result in interactive services for the visual and hearing impaired or in better access to public card readers, such as cash distributors, to wheelchair users. At the same time, the use of smart cards should become easier for the visually impaired through tactile means by using embossed symbols on those cards. Also, the "Man Machine Interface" should facilitate emergency services.

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