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European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda
Working together to implement the Digital Agenda
Meeting with representatives from European ICT Industry organised by Spanish Presidency
Madrid, 30th June 2010
It has been an interesting six months for Europe and certainly for me personally.
No doubt for you also; starting the Spanish Presidency with one Commissioner and then working with a new one.
I think we have done excellent work together so far and I hope we can make a good deal for the coming years.
With me, what you see is what you get.
Sometimes we will disagree but you will always get the real me. We can discuss our problems together openly and, as a good Dutch person, I am a real pragmatist.
I am someone you can do business with.
And we have a lot of business to do! I could not have wished for a better start to my mandate with the Spanish Presidency's intense support for Information and Communications Technologies.
This has helped the Commission to build a strong foundation for the Digital Agenda for Europe.
So I also offer particular thanks to Miguel Sebastian, Spain's Minister of Industry, Tourism and Trade, and his colleagues for their support.
I know the Belgian Presidency also wants to make a strong case for the digital Single Market, so I think we will be seeing each other a lot in the near future – both to talk and to take concrete action to implement the Digital Agenda.
Digital Agenda for Europe
ICTs are shaping how we do business, how we consume, our quality of life, and the power balance between countries, communication platforms and generations.
You only have to look at the millions of people who line-up overnight when a ground-breaking new device comes out, to see how much they care about these technologies.
That much we already know … but why do I need you to be part of delivering the actions of the Digital Agenda?
Firstly we can't do it alone – the whole point of the Agenda is to work in partnerships. Partnerships with the telecom industry, with different public authorities, with content providers, with citizens themselves.
Secondly, it is in both our interests. None of the pressing challenges of our time will be solved without a strong ICT component.
And that means more business opportunities for you if we can together help these markets to grow.
I am quite serious here. Can Europe make a long-term recovery from the crisis without the actions in the Digital Agenda? I don’t think so.
No Digital Agenda equals no long-term recovery. No Digital Agenda will mean, in particular, reduced productivity growth.
I am sure you agree that few businesses will enjoy competing against companies in Asia benefitting from Internet access up to 100 times faster.
Such situations are not sustainable in the long-term.
So this action plan – this list of 'to do's' - is the best chance we have of together making the across-the-board changes our economy needs. And now it is time to deliver.
Last time I was in Madrid, in April, it was very symbolic for two reasons.
Firstly I met an amazing group of 800 young entrepreneurs working in ICT. They gave me a sobering warning – they said "you Neelie and other leaders could become a lost generation. Don't miss the boat, so to say, on these technologies because that would hurt all of us."
I don’t want to be that lost generation. Do you? No!
I want us to be the people who took good risks and embraced the digital era.
The second reason I remember Madrid is that I was almost stuck here because of the ash cloud. We got the last plane out of Madrid.
There is another last plane about to leave – the Digital Agenda. It’s flying away from our economic ash cloud to the computing cloud, if you will excuse my bad joke.
So let’s get on it – let’s avoid becoming a lost continent and a lost generation.
Now ... let’s get down to the heart of agenda – the internet.
Fast Internet is digital oxygen in my opinion.
I would say that the speed limit on our economic growth is somehow related to the speed limit of our internet.
I want to help the market for fast internet to grow in every way I can.
And I take a very broad view of how to do that. Better e-services for example – from eHealth and e-Governement down to basic services - can stimulate demand for access to new networks.
Putting digital literacy at the heart of our education and training systems will embed interest and capability in using fast internet.
I am interested to hear all your ideas in these regards.
But we do have very concrete actions planned to give the ICT sector every reasonable incentive to roll-out better networks.
You may be aware already that our package will include:
The actions of this package will take place on three levels:
As you know, we have worked hard on a Recommendation on Next Generation Access networks. After two public consultations and very intense discussions there is now a solid text which is largely supported by BEREC and which has the backing of a strong majority of the Council's Communication Committee.
I believe that this Recommendation, which should be adopted after the summer break, will provide regulatory certainty across Europe.
This will promote efficient investment in next generation networks while at the same time preserving competition for the benefit of European citizens and business.
Spectrum is also crucial to our future internet because of the improved wireless access that a more flexible and efficient spectrum allocation would allow.
So I am keen to ensure, for example, that those who deliver mobile broadband through LTE are not disadvantaged compared to others simply because their technology came later.
I don't pretend that delivering this regulatory outcome will be easy.
Like many issues in the Digital Agenda the technological challenges are accompanied by wider political and cultural challenges and not everyone will be happy with the choices inherent in effective prioritisation.
But we will be pursuing more than regulation to improve our internet.
2. Direct investment
By this I mean making much better use of public money, be it EU structural funds, national money and so on.
Making use of these funds is harder for the national and local authorities concerned that it might seem at first glance.
We want to make the process as simple as possible to maximise involvement.
The Commission is also co-operating with the European Investment Bank in a review of broadband financing to increase the available funding and make the system as efficient as possible.
I will push this as hard as I am able. But I also want to be clear that creating synergies and reducing investment costs is more effective that simply covering those costs with public money.
3. Reducing investment costs
Within the National Broadband Plans that I expect every Member State to produce, national authorities can make a major contribution to rollout of ultra fast broadband by reducing the costs of investment, for instance reducing administrative burdens and coordinating civil works.
Considering there are hundreds of billions of investments to be made, the savings here will not be coffee money, so to say.
The broadband Communication to be adopted after the summer break will present ways to achieve this aim.
Moving now to net neutrality...
The debate on net neutrality has grown in intensity over recent months.
I would like to announce that today we are launching a wider consultation. Following the consultation and a summit with the European Parliament and all interested stakeholders, the Commission will adopt a Communication on net neutrality.
The process will be as open as the internet!
This debate is clearly fuelled by passionate interests. Most of them are legitimate, but I think that one result of the consultation will be greater clarity on the real issues at stake.
As already made clear, I will not support any public policy that may threaten freedom of expression.
And I have also underlined that I am keen to promote transparency, innovation, fair competition and investment in new efficient and open networks.
This is what helps to build entrepreneurship and the open internet we cherish.
On that note, I would also say that we must consider at the same time how the regulatory framework can foster investment in new networks.
With faster efficient and competitive networks, alongside efforts to encourage file compression, we can actually deal with some of traffic management issues in a very pragmatic way.
From the consumer point of view, transparency and quality of service seem to be issues of increasing concern.
I don't think anyone in this room wins if consumers are left feeling ripped off by false claims about internet speeds for example – so I want us to work together to reduce such concerns.
But let me finish on this point by saying there is no sense in pre-judging the consultation.
I will simply underline that, like you, I am committed to an open and efficient internet where freedom can flourish.
In conclusion, please – remember my offer about how we can work together.
That’s what I want you to remember tomorrow. Don’t mistake that offer.
I have no hesitation in being tough if we are facing a dysfunction in a market, or the rules are not being followed.
But most of the time, we can avoid such problems if we talk early and are prepared to make deals. So let’s everybody keep that in mind.
If we don't get the chance to discuss a specific issue today, please contact my staff or reach me on Facebook or Twitter.