European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda
Delivering broadband in Europe
Opening remarks at press conference
Brussels, 20th September 2010
Ladies and gentlemen,
today the Digital Agenda for Europe moves from 'vision' to 'concrete action'.
On my initiative, the Commission has this morning agreed three complementary measures to facilitate the roll out and take up of fast and ultra-fast broadband in the EU. These measures support the Digital Agenda's key performance targets.
Fast broadband is digital oxygen, essential for Europe's prosperity and well-being.
No one doubts that Europe will be better off if we get everyone online. It is of course much harder to make tough policy choices and get the major investments needed to realise those goals.
Today's package has three elements:
First, a Commission Recommendation on Regulated access to Next Generation Access (NGA) that requires national telecoms regulators to ensure an appropriate balance between the needs to encourage investment and to safeguard competition.
Second, a Commission proposal to the European Parliament and the Council for a Decision to establish a 5 year policy programme for radio spectrum that would in particular ensure that sufficient spectrum is made available for wireless broadband.
And thirdly, a Communication on how best to increase private and public investment in broadband networks.
These actions underpin the commitment outlined in the Digital Agenda to ensure access to basic broadband for all by 2013, and fast broadband by 2020. A million jobs may depend on the success of this package, as does Europe's wider prospects for economic growth and social cohesion.
This is a ground-breaking package in several respects.
Our NGA Recommendation ensures that all Member States apply the same principles when assessing the terms of access by competitors to the new broadband networks of powerful incumbents. While today's Recommendation provides essential regulatory clarity, it also sets high standards. We are not choosing investment incentives over competition, or vice versa. We are playing for both.
Europe needs both investment incentives and competition to get these high speed and modern networks rolled-out. Why? Because although telecom operators have to realise huge investments to deploy next generation fibre networks, we cannot take the risk that this fundamental transition may lead to a re-monopolisation of telecom networks, losing the benefits that competition has brought so far. We must therefore take a balanced approach, because we need both incumbent operators and new market entrants to attain such important goals. Only a mix of the two will concentrate the resources and the energy needed for these investments and competitive broadband services.
I would like to recall that the Telecommunications Framework Directive requires Member States to ensure that their regulatory authorities follow Commission Recommendations on telecoms issues, duly justifying any departure from them.
Regarding Radio Spectrum Policy, the Commission's proposal will ensure a coherent and ambitious policy approach in an area that will be key for meeting our ambitious broadband targets and for the success of the Digital Agenda as a whole. After very detailed consultation, it is clear that we need EU-wide coordination of some key aspects of radio spectrum policy to cater for the growing demand for wireless broadband and other new technologies.
Without such a framework, broadband for all is not feasible. I am thinking here not only of those in remote or rural areas dependent on wireless access, but also consumers and businesses that increasingly want and require broadband access whilst on the move.
The programme would also ensure that spectrum access is used to support innovation in other policy areas and sectors such as transport and the environment. It may seem strange but improving our spectrum management is linked as well to our ability to cut our carbon footprint, cut traffic jams, and keep our society functioning. You should really not underestimate how many applications and devices need well managed spectrum to deliver high quality services to European citizens! Failure to take action will rapidly lead to major difficulties on a number of levels.
Finally, the Broadband Communication outlines how best to encourage the €200 billion or so in private and public investments in fast and ultra-fast broadband networks that Europe needs. Here we will be working with Member States to introduce operational broadband plans. Having no good plans means missed targets. So we are very serious about sharing our expertise and working with Member States to tailor plans that make the most out of their circumstances and new financial instruments from the European Investment Bank and other sources such as the EU's Structural Funds.
Europe currently has some of the highest broadband penetration rates in the world. But still only one quarter of Europeans have broadband connections. What is more - the rest of the world is catching up and often has better quality networks.
I cannot sit by and allow our businesses to continue to compete against Asian businesses with internet 100 times faster than our own.
I cannot sit by and watch our broadband advantage disappear through complacency.
So today's measures should send a loud and clear signal to European businesses and citizens.
These measures will help to ensure that Europeans get the first-class internet they expect and deserve, so that they can access the content and services they want. These measures will help our economy realise smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
The future is digital and we all need to work together to invest in competitive broadband networks and other projects that will let us tap into that digital potential.