Brussels, 29 November 2007
Despite technological progress and enhanced competition, more than one in three Europeans are still excluded from fully benefiting from the digital society. Benefits of €35-85 billion over five years could be generated if society would be made more inclusive, websites more accessible and broadband Internet made available to all EU citizens. Today, the Commission presents its e-Inclusion initiative to Council, calling on Member States to support a number of key actions, including an awareness campaign for 2008 "e-Inclusion, be part of it!" e-Accessibility legislation, similar to that of the USA, is also under consideration.
"In today's society, access to information by all citizens is a right as well as a condition for prosperity. It is neither morally acceptable nor economically sustainable to leave millions of people behind, unable to use Information and Communications Technologies to their advantage" said Viviane Reding EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "With today's initiative, the Commission reinforces its commitment to overcoming digital exclusion in Europe. Progress has been only half as fast as it should be. The Commission is sending today a clear signal to all parties concerned: industry, regulators and governments that we must act together now to ensure a barrier-free information society for all."
In the Commission's view, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) must provide freedom of choice and be designed for use by everyone regardless of their personal or social situation, so reducing social disparities. In a Declaration made in Riga in 2006, EU Ministers committed themselves to clear targets, Eg to halve the gaps in Internet use and in digital literacy, and to achieve 100% accessibility of public websites by 2010 (IP/06/769). Such targets could deliver benefits of €35-85 billion over five years.
Yet progress remains fragmented and slow, despite such targets and many actions involving public authorities, industry and civil society. Most of the Riga objectives will not be met on time. Accessibility of public websites remains stuck at 5%. Only 10% of people aged over 64 are Internet users while the average in Europe is 47%. Without further intervention, the gap will only be halved in 2015 instead of 2010. The latest assessments conducted for the Commission show that accessibility of websites, communication terminals, TV sets and other ICT remains problematic, with lower-educated, economically inactive and elderly people at the greatest risk of being left behind.
To address the challenge, this European initiative for an all-inclusive society sets out a strategic framework to:
During 2008, the Commission will raise awareness through a campaign called "e-Inclusion, be part of it!" This will culminate with a Ministerial Conference towards the end of the year, to demonstrate real progress and to reinforce commitments at all levels.
As well as supporting research and pilots, the Commission will work towards a horizontal legislative approach to make the information society more accessible, to guarantee equal rights and to ensure an effective single market. Several EU Member States (such as the UK, Spain, and Italy) have already started to adopt legislative measures for e-accessibility. In the USA, the "Americans with Disabilities Act” of 1990 led to great improvements, and has recently been applied to on-line services such as websites.
The Commission's i2010 initiative already prioritises e-Inclusion (IP/05/643). This has led to specific actions on: e-Accessibility (IP/05/1144), broadband digital divide (IP/06/340), ICT and ageing (IP/07/831) and e-Skills (IP/07/1286).
On 13 November 2007, the Commission proposed a substantial package of reforms
for telecoms legislation in the EU with an explicit objective of giving all EU
citizens access to broadband (IP/07/1677).