Mr Erkki Liikanen
Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society
"What did the burst of the bubble do to eEurope?"
European IT Forum 2001
Monaco, 18 September 2001
Ladies and gentlemen,
The new economy and the Internet have been on top of the EU agenda since the Lisbon Summit, in March 2000. EU leaders set a new ambitious frontier for Europe: to become the world's most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy. To reach this goal, the Commission devised a comprehensive strategy: the eEurope 2002 Action Plan.
This was one and a half year ago. This was the time of the dot.com boom. A time when some were talking, or dreaming, about the end of economic cycles. What nobody knew at the time, was that high-tech stocks had already reached their height. Few imagined that the economic slow-down would be so sharp.
Is this to say that the new economy is history? That we can forget about the Internet? That Lisbon and the eEurope strategy are definitively dead? It is all over? No. Let me explain why:
This is a huge asset.
The continued growth of the Internet in European homes illustrates this situation: the EU average penetration was 36% in June up from 28% last October. Close to half the EU population has had some experience with the Internet and the percentage of regular users is approaching 40%.
There is a major role for government in this context. Investors are influenced by stock markets, but public policy must not fluctuate with share prices. Stock markets follow quarterly figures; public policies must always have a long-term vision, clear objectives, and constancy. This does not only concern the economy: more pressing challenges require vision and courage.
Government policy must pave the way. Here are the priorities of our actions:
1. Completing telecoms liberalisation
From the outset, EU telecoms policy had one key objective: to provide high quality services at low prices to European citizens. To achieve this, we have gradually liberalised all segments of the telecoms market. This process culminated in January 1998 with the full liberalisation of services and infrastructures in all Member States.
Thanks to liberalisation, telecoms services became the fastest growing sector of the European economy. Competition keeps intensifying, leading to lower prices, more choice, better quality of service and innovation.
The last bottleneck was removed at the beginning of this year with the unbundling of the local loop. This means that new entrants in the telecoms market can use the local network of the incumbent operator under fair conditions, to propose their own services.
This is a vital step for the development of broadband Internet based on ADSL. The unbundling process isn't yet completed in all EU countries, but we already see increased competition in flat-fee, high-speed Internet.
No we must make the local loop unbundling also a reality.
We have achieved a lot, but much remains to be done to create a level-playing field for all competitors. Indeed, the EU telecoms market remains fragmented along national lines. This is particularly the case regarding mobiles, as was illustrated by incoherence in the licensing process for third-generation mobile services.
The success of mobile phones in Europe is striking. In less than a decade, mobiles have conquered 70% of the EU population, and the penetration rate keeps growing. Mobiles have really become part of our daily life and our culture.
This is a very strong European asset. We must build on this technological and industrial success to extend Europe's leadership to the next generation of mobile communications.
The transition to UMTS, the third-generation mobile system with full multimedia capability, is a major challenge. I personally remain confident that the possibility to connect anyone, anywhere, anytime will be a compelling goal for an inclusive information society. What we need to do now is to facilitate deployment through network sharing and other measures, and encourage the development of content for new mobile services.
One can also start looking beyond 3G: first, by ensuring greater coherence in the licensing process in the future; and second, by a high level of research into to the development of future mobile systems.
Another major challenge is to adapt telecoms regulation to the Internet-driven convergence between telecoms, computers and the media. A new regulatory package for electronic communications, which updates the existing telecoms framework, has been tabled to this end. It would also streamline the existing framework, which is the result of a complex procedure over more than a decade. It is to enter into force towards the end of 2002.
2. Security and confidence building
Competition alone will not be enough to ensure widespread Internet take-up in Europe, whether at home or on the move. It must be complemented by a high level of security and privacy on the Internet.
Users need to feel safe. This is not the case right now. A growing number of users experience security and privacy problems. Between October 2000 and last June, spamming has almost tripled and virus attacks doubled. The EU has already taken several key measures regarding security and privacy:
However, more needs to be done. Networks have become critical for the proper functioning of our societies and economies.
Therefore, the Commission has recently published a Communication on network and information security. Our main policy proposals are:
Our objective is to table a comprehensive strategy on the security of electronic networks before the end of the year.
Now assume we have genuine and fair competition, and a high level of security. This is still not enough to ensure the long-term development of the Internet. You don't sell a service simply because it's cheap and safe. What the consumer is interested in, is what's 'in' the box.
The convergence process puts distinct distribution platforms in direct competition with one another: today, we already see telecoms operators in direct rivalry with cable operators, and three-way rivalry with satellite operators will follow. But the average end-user is not interested in the delivery method. What's matter to her or him is 'what' is delivered.
The real battle is only starting: it is the fight for eyeballs. It is clear that Internet surfing will compete with TV viewing, that active media will compete with passive media, and that, to some extent, they will merge. For instance, elements of interactivity are being integrated in the TV watching experience, and streaming media is developing on the Web.
But differentiation will remain. If you need to be connected 24 hours a day, a mobile solution may be what you need. But if you want to watch a movie, the display of your mobile phone or PDA will not be up to the job. It is the TV set which is very likely to be the preferred option. But if you then want to surf on the archives of the world, then you will log on to your computer.
Hence, while different access platforms are competing with each other, they are at the same highly complementary.
Attracting people to these different platforms will depend on the services offered: services are what make the user tick, and the thrill is in the content. If we want an information society for all, content must be rich, diversified, in all languages and it must meet specific cultural demands.
This is key to the rapid development of the mobile Internet, where people will be charged payments for services used. It is also essential for broadband Internet, where people pay extra money to get a faster connection, but what's the point if the content doesn't justify the speed?
Since I'm talking about payment, let me just point out that the passage to the Euro will be a major stimulant for new interactive services. The Euro will add transparency to the e-market by allowing for instant comparison, as well as additional security, by scrapping the conversion exercise.
Now, when we talk about content, we should remember that it encompasses audiovisual and software, but also on-line entertainment, video games, e-commerce applications, publishing, education as well as many public services. It covers all the digitised information, images, sounds and applications that can be transmitted over the networks.
Government is a main player in this context. It is a major driver of uptake through the offer of high-quality on-line services. It also owns a considerable quantity of high quality content linked to Europe's formidable cultural heritage.
As the number of connected citizens grows, so will the incentive for government to offer efficient and diversified on-line public services.
eGovernment is a big win-win challenge. It gives public administrations the possibility to increase their productivity and offer better service to citizens. It is of course necessary to invest in IC-technologies in front offices. But even more important is the reorganising of the administration, the changes in the way of working in the back office.
In parallel, government will become more efficient. Old and expensive service delivery methods will be replaced by more carefully tailored and targeted services with important cost-savings and increased efficiency.
For market actors, all I have just described is about competition and market shares. From a societal point of view, there is a strong element of inclusiveness. Indeed, diversified platforms and contents, meeting the diversified needs and interests of different people, in any places, may allow to reach each and every citizen. Which takes me to my next point: digital inclusion
4. Digital inclusion
Liberalisation drives prices down, security ensures trust, content trigger the user's interest. What is still missing is that people all people have the ability to use the Internet, and also the opportunity to do so.
It all starts at school. Schools must provide all young Europeans with the essential digital skills they need to live and work in the digital age. That very much depends on levels of equipment. We will probably reach the target of having all schools on-line by the end of the year: indeed, we were already at 90% last May.
But connecting schools is not enough: pupils need to be able to use the Internet in all schools, in good conditions. This means pupil access in all schools, recent computers in sufficient numbers, and high-speed Internet connections. And of course, teachers need to be trained and curricula adapted. A lot remains to be done in this respect.
From schools we must move upwards, and ensure the employability of people already on the job market. Many of them need to adapt their skills or acquire new ones. This is exacerbated by the ageing of Europe's workforce and the accelerated outdating of skills due to the fast pace of technology development. But nobody is too old to learn and digital technologies can facilitate the learning process. This calls for the promotion of life-long learning for all Europeans, using the Internet.
This will contribute to providing a sufficient supply of ICT-skilled workers. ICT skills remain a major issue: first, because there is a continued need of specific high tech skills at the top of the skill pyramid; second, because the more traditional bricks and mortar companies need ICT specialists to move to 'bricks and clicks'.
But the skill issue doesn't stop at ICT. Soon, we will be in a situation where 'everybody' needs at least a minimum level of digital skills. As we move further into the knowledge economy, the share of high-skill jobs in overall employment will continue to grow, for instance new jobs related to content creation. We are not talking about engineers here, but rather creators and information handlers.
Then we need targeted measures in direction of groups which are, or risk being excluded from the digital age. Social inclusion is a duty of the welfare state, but it is also an economic imperative:
Beyond social inclusion, we must also remember to integrate our close family, all the candidate countries that will soon join the EU.
In conclusion, the information society is and will remain a top priority for the EU. The spread of the Internet across Europe is in everybody's interest. It can foster economic growth, provide jobs, connect remote places to urban centres and increase the standard of living. This has not changed. But for all of this to happen, we need:
And all of this we need throughout the EU of tomorrow, in the current and future Member States. This is the challenge. We must remain focused and keep the sense of urgency.
Thank you for your attention.