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Mr Erkki Liikanen

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society

Moving towards open platforms and interoperable services in tomorrow's information society

Public Hearing on Open Platforms and Interoperability for Digital Television and 3G

Brussels, 4 February 2003

I am pleased that today we are holding, in the course of our consultation, a public hearing on the preliminary analysis that we carried out in the working document on "open platforms".

The expression "open platforms" is, of course, our "shorthand" term for the examination of "remaining barriers to the achievement of widespread access to new services and applications of the information society through open platforms in digital television and third generation mobile communications".

The mandate for this examination originated with the Barcelona European Summit almost a year ago. Then the Seville European Council last summer came back to this request.

We see more and more clearly that getting an Information Society into place means making sure that people have choices about the service providers they use. The Barcelona Summit explicitly endorsed the idea that open platforms deliver choice to consumers about the services they use and how they access them.

Part of the eEurope 2005 Action Plan is to move everyone and by this I mean our entire society and how services are provided - towards a digital age, when it will be commonplace for everyone to receive services via some electronic delivery mechanism.

I believe that multi-platform delivery of services will become the norm of the future. Services are likely to be both competitive and complementary, especially with widespread broadband access becoming available to most households in the next few years.

In the architectures of next generation technologies for information society applications and networks, access and openness will be important in areas where they were not before.

The challenge of interoperability must be addressed at all levels, such as terminal devices, network infrastructure, content and services and applications delivered across platforms.

It is difficult for us to predict today what bottlenecks we will confront in future and where the main issues for access and openness will lie. In the longer term, we are sure that new network architectures will require interoperability and active collaboration between different types of networks.

Today's paper addresses more particularly the interface software of Information Society services what we call application program interfaces - on mobile and digital television platforms. This software the APIs - may be based on three possible standards: either an open standard , open source software or proprietary software.

Open standards are consensus-based, publicly available, transparently agreed and commercially exploitable on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis. APIs and systems based on open standards are open by design.

Open source software is freely available, open and non-proprietary. Systems using open source software are likewise open by design but they can be made at least partially closed when a software developer adapts the open code to run with a new application and new code that is proprietary in nature and he doesn't make the new code available for free.

In proprietary standards, the owner remains in control of the technical specifications and any modifications of them.

In digital TV and 3G, we note that the technology related to these two platforms which is largely proprietary for reasons we need not go into - is capable of creating bottlenecks and consumer lock-ins. In some places this has already happened. EU leaders are therefore anxious to know that their public policy initiatives are genuinely creating widespread consumer welfare without leading to concentrated markets and consumer lock-in, especially in our current financial and economic environment.

Another reason that we are looking at these technological platforms comes from convergence. With the introduction of third generation mobile services, we will see the "multi" in "multi-media" begin to take off. Subscribers will be able to download a huge variety of content and electronic services to their 3G handsets, including the kind of content that is more traditionally associated with TV broadcasting.

In future networks, the traditional "horizontal" handoff across base stations will be augmented with "vertical" handoffs between different overlay networks. Uninterrupted service would then require seamless interoperability between different access networks.

This means that we want to be extremely alert to where the markets are going in terms of interoperable services and freedom of choice for users. We are conscious that proprietary interface technology can be used to impede third parties from developing and delivering competing or alternative services and applications.

The most familiar delivery platform for Information Society services - the PC was not part of the original request from the European Councils and is not examined in great detail in today's paper. However, we are open for your comments in this respect.

How will it all work together? This is truly the fundamental question about all this technology. The analysis of the potential policy issues is difficult as many complex and interrelated technical details are involved. Bottlenecks are hard to predict at this stage as are the future issues related to access.

We think the issues merit a public hearing because what is at stake in creating an inclusive Information Society - where accessing Information Society services by everyone is as commonplace as receiving telephone services today is too important to adopt without public debate and input.

So we all look forward to hearing your contributions. I will now turn you over to your chairman, Fabio Colasanti, the director general of DG INFSO, who will explain the breakdown of today's discussion and timing. Thank you for coming.

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