Telecom Council, Brussels, 8 March 2004
European Commission - MEMO/04/47 05/03/2004
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Brussels, 5th March 2004
Telecom Council, Brussels, 8 March 2004
The EU Telecommunications Council will meet on March 8, 2004 in Brussels. Commissioner Erkki Liikanen will represent the European Commission.
Adoption of Council Conclusions on recent developments in the electronic communication sector
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are a key factor driving growth, improvements in productivity and competitiveness. They therefore can help to improve both economic performance and social cohesion. The electronic communications sector is of strategic importance because of its size, dynamism and impact on nearly all other economic activities. Recent evidence shows that it has been the largest contributor to labour productivity growth in the Union.
This sector grew fast in the late nineties, but underwent a sharp downturn in 2000 and 2001 which led the Council and the Commission to closely monitor the situation in the electronic communications sector and to report ahead of the 2003 Spring European Council meeting.
After two years of consolidation the conditions now seem right for a return to higher rates of growth. These conditions include improved financial conditions for operators, and continued growth in revenue from services. However, sustainable growth in this sector can be achieved only through a revival in capital spending and further deployment of new innovative services. Action is therefore needed to support the deployment of the necessary infrastructure - broadband and Third Generation Mobile Communications (3G), notwithstanding the positive signs in terms of new mobile services and broadband growth which have been seen over recent weeks.
On 3 February 2004, the Commission adopted its Communication "Connecting Europe at high speed: Recent developments in the sector of electronic communications". This Communication responds to the request of the 2003 spring European Council for a report on developments in the sector ahead of its spring 2004 meeting. It highlights the need for sustained political commitment to improve the effective use of ICTs in the Unio.
The Report identifies both recent developments and actions still needed to address barriers to further investment:
There will be a debate about the overall situation of electronic communications in Europe. This is likely to take the temperature of the sector and highlight the importance of ICT and of the electronic communications sector for economic growth. Attention will focus on the implementation of national broadband strategies and the priority attached to encouraging the launch of 3G mobile data services. This should be confirmed in the Council's conclusions which should endorse the main messages and areas for future work identified by the Commission.
Member States will be called on to complete the transposition of the new regulatory framework into their national laws. They will also be invited to propose quick-start projects to extend broadband coverage in under-served areas on the basis of published national strategies. This will also contribute to moving forward with the European Initiative for Growth.
The Commission will confirm that it will publish communications on national broadband strategies in May 2004 and on challenges to 3G deployment in July 2004, as well as to work with stakeholders to address the issues of social inclusion and cohesion, and with industry on the different issues which can hold up broadband and 3G mobile communications.
Market players will be called upon to step up investment in R&D and high-speed networks and to develop new, attractive and high-quality services to achieve renewed growth and for the benefit of users.
Adoption of Council Conclusions on eEurope 2005 Action Plan: Mid-term review
The eEurope Action Plan is part of the strategy set out at the Lisbon European Council to drive the Union's economic, social and environmental renewal and to build a knowledge-based economy in Europe. The first eEurope Action Plan was adopted in 2000 and by the end of 2002, the majority of its 65 targets had been met. However, the success in getting Europe on-line had not been translated into enough new jobs and services, nor had businesses in most economic sector in the Union achieved the same increases in productivity through the introduction of (ICTs) as observed in the USA.
The eEurope 2005 Action Plan, endorsed by the Seville European Council, therefore had as central aim to stimulate the use of new services. It concentrates on three areas e- Government, e-Learning and e-Health, which offer the largest efficiency gains given the volume of information that is being handled and where action by public authorities can have the greatest direct impact. It also is helping create an environment in which a dynamic e-business can flourish. However, the Action Plan recognises that these new services, and the potential for increased productivity which they offer, depend on the widespread availability of high-speed internet (or broadband). It must be provided at competitive prices and over a secure information infrastructure that businesses and citizens can use with confidence.
As part of the eEurope 2005 Action Plan a mid-term review was foreseen "in advance of the Spring European Council 2004". This mid-term review was launched in February (see IP/04/239). It provides the Commission's analysis of political and market developments since the launch of the 2005 Action Plan. It builds on the responses by from current and future Member States and from candidate countries to a survey in autumn 2003, inputs to an on-line questionnaire and a public hearing held in October 2003.
The mid-term review confirms the eEurope 2005 targets remain valid in the context of the enlargement of the EU to 25 members. Progress in rolling out broadband and getting e-government services on line has accelerated and has been supported by increased political support at the national and EU levels.
The mid-term review therefore focuses on updating and fine-tuning the approach and looking at how to speed progress, while recognising that a range of challenges remain to be met including supporting the faster roll out of broadband connections and avoiding the creation of a digital divide across different regions, promoting interoperable Digital Rights Management systems, focusing on standards and interoperability of networks and devices more generally, and recognising the real gains from ICT investment, for example, in e-Government or e-Health, depend on matching new technology with adapting the way services are delivered, organised and provided.
The Commission in particular wants to draw the attention of the Council, also as highlighted in its Spring report, on the need to maintain political momentum.
At this Council
The Council is expected to confirm the continuing validity of the eEurope 2005 targets for an enlarged European Union and recognise that real progress is being made. However, it will also call for strong political commitment at all levels in order to meet the eEurope 2005 targets and deliver the productivity gains and job creation expected.
The Commission will confirm its willingness to prepare an adjusted eEurope 2005 Action Plan ahead of the June European Council.
The Council will decide to send its conclusions on to the Heads of State and Government as an input to their review of progress on the Lisbon Strategy at the European Council at the end of March.
Adoption of Council Conclusions on unsolicited communications for direct marketing purposes or "spam'
Unsolicited commercial communications by e-mail, otherwise known as 'spam' have reached worrying proportions worldwide. Within the EU, over 50 percent of all e-mail is now estimated to be spam. What is even more worrying is the exponential rate of growth: in 2001 the figure was 'only' 7 percent.
Spam is a problem for many reasons: intrusion of privacy, deception of consumers, and exposure of minors to objectionable material. It also generates extra costs for businesses, not least through lost productivity. More generally, it undermines consumer confidence, which is a prerequisite for the success of e-commerce and, indeed, for the Information Society.
The 2002 e-Privacy Directive1 introduced the principle of consent-based marketing (opt-in) for electronic mail - including mobile SMS or MMS messages - and complementary safeguards for consumers2. Member States had until the 31st of October last year to bring their laws into line.
Yet there is no 'magic solution' to spam. While legislation is a first, necessary step, it is not enough. The Commission's January 2004 Communication on spam identifies a series of actions to complement the EU rules and thereby make the 'ban on spam' as effective as possible: proper enforcement and international cooperation, self-regulatory and technical solutions by industry, and greater consumer awareness.
On enforcement, Member States should not only put into place adequate complaints mechanisms, remedies and penalties, but also prosecute spammers effectively and monitor spam. Co-operation between industry and public authorities is important here. The Commission is also taking steps to improve cross-border cooperation inside the EU by meeting with the relevant authorities.
International cooperation with third countries on spam is also crucial, since much spam comes from outside the EU. To explore possible international solutions, the Commission hosted an OECD workshop on spam in Brussels on 2-3 February 2004. Commissioner Liikanen called on OECD member countries to agree a five-point framework to promote effective legislation, cooperation among enforcement agencies, self-regulation by industry, technical solutions, and greater consumer awareness (see IP/04/136)3.
At this Council
The Council will stress the need for coordinated action to combat the proliferation of unsolicited commercial communications by e-mail, otherwise known as 'spam'. Its conclusions will echo the Commission's recent calls for effective enforcement and other measures to make the legal 'ban on spam' as effective as possible4.
The Council will stress that such action, building on the new rules on unsolicited communications, must focus on effective enforcement by Member States, greater international co-operation, active participation of market players, and heightened awareness amongst consumers and citizens.
The Council will call for close cooperation among all parties concerned, from the EU, its Member States and national authorities, through the private sector, to third countries.
The Council will also back various actions that the Commission called for in its January Communication, and will welcome the Commission's intention to evaluate the effectiveness of actions taken by various parties both to address "spam" and to assess, by the end of 2004, whether additional action is required.
Member States will be called upon, inter alia, to finish transposing the Directive on privacy and electronic communications into their national laws, assess the effectiveness of their enforcement mechanisms, share information on how to measure 'spam', encourage co-operation amongst all enforcement bodies, assess the rules under which technical solutions such as filtering software can be used on their territory, and support awareness-raising campaigns on prevention, acceptable marketing practices, and technical and legal solutions available to users.
The Commission will confirm that it will evaluate the effectiveness of various anti-spam measures, identify how best to ensure cross-border enforcement within the EU and with third countries, work with the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party on a common interpretation of the new rules on unsolicited communications, support the development of Europe-wide online codes of conduct for direct marketing, to provide information on national implementating policies through its "Europa" website or other publicly available sources, and explore possible solutions at international level.
Market players will be called upon, inter alia, to adapt their data collection and processing methods to the new rules as quickly as possible, to adopt self-regulatory solutions to spam, including specific contractual arrangements between service providers and customers, to continue to develop technical solutions (including filtering systems or services for their customers) and to ensure that network facilities, such as servers, relays and proxies are properly secured against spam-related activities.
World Summit on the Information Society
The first session of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) was held in Geneva from 10 to12 December 2003. There were about 11.000 participants from more than 150 countries, organisations, civil society representatives and the private sector. The Summit was initiated by an ITU resolution5 in 1998 and further supported by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly6 adopted in January 2002. Its aim is "to develop a common vision and understanding of the Information Society and to draw up a strategic plan of action for concerted development towards realising this vision". It takes place at a moment when there is worldwide recognition that society has changed, and is continuing to change, as a result of the fast-moving developments in information and communication technologies. Such technological advances are driving economic, social, and cultural changes to an extent never before thought possible.
The WSIS was the first global event on the Information Society, and the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action adopted at the Geneva Summit form the basis for an approach to the Information Society shared by all the Member States of the United Nations. The texts are firmly grounded in existing international human rights provisions, with a clear reaffirmation of key human rights principles, and in particular the freedom of opinion and expression and the freedom of the media.
The European Commission's view of the Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action agreed by UN Member States as a basis for a common approach to the Information Society are set out in a Commission Communication7. This Communication assesses the key results of the December 2003 Geneva World Summit on Information Society (WSIS). It states priorities and proposes ways to organise inputs for the second phase of the WSIS. That second stage will flesh out the Plan of Action with specific programmes and is scheduled to culminate in a WSIS summit meeting in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005.
The Commission is committed to pursuing the inclusive, multilateral approach of the WSIS, including the solidarity principle. It will contribute actively to the working groups on Internet governance and financing, which have been set up under the authority of the UN Secretary General. These will be important contributions to the second phase of the Summit. In addition, the Communication proposes priorities for the Union's follow up on the Plan of Action. Attention should focus on several key priorities: e-Strategies and enabling regulatory frameworks, priority fields of application such as eGovernment, eHealth, eLearning and on other initiatives related to research and to education networks. These are areas where concrete action is possible to support the WSIS approach during 2004.
At this Council
The Council will adopt conclusions on the follow up to the World Summit, thereby signalling to all those involved in the preparatory process the Union's commitment to a successful second stage of the WSIS.
1 Directive 2002/58/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 July 2002 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (Directive on privacy and electronic communications).
2 With a limited exception, unsolicited communications are banned. This 'ban on spam' is applicable to marketing electronic mail to subscribers who are natural persons, but Member States can extend it to legal persons. Infringement proceedings have been opened against a number of Member States that failed to notify transposition measures to the Commission.
3 More background information is available at the following URL address: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/topics/ecomm/highlights/current_spotlights/spam/index_en.htm
4 See Communication on unsolicited commercial communications or 'spam' COM (2004)28, 22 January 2004.
5 Resolution 73 adopted during the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference Minneapolis 1998.
7 "Towards a Global Partnership in the Information Society: Follow-up of the Geneva Summit of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS)" COM(2004) 111 final of 19.2.2004