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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
A communicating, competitive continent
European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA)/Brussels
25 June 2013
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Last week I outlined our plans for a connected single market. I'm not going to repeat that speech today; many of you have heard it once already. But I want to remind you of the benefits. How I see your role, as competitive challengers, in making it happen. And how I am going to ensure you are able to deliver on that role.
The world is changing: rapidly. New kinds of services running on new kinds of networks, built on data. Services that consumers enjoy, and our businesses increasingly need.
So now it is time to build on that success, with the rules for a genuine, connected single market.
I know you're well aware of the potential benefits.
For example: the benefits for business. Businesses operating across sites or countries represent half the value added of the European economy: truly pan-European customers. But they need to stay in touch: with sites, with customers, with suppliers.
Imagine if they could communicate properly. With guaranteed quality, consistent service, secure connections. Benefits in almost every sector, worth 800 billion euros over 15 years. Economic growth to keep our continent competitive and create jobs.
We've spent years, decades building up a single market. Now we need to support it. In an economy that relies on communication, we cannot leave those cross-border businesses high and dry. I know you are longing to offer those new services. And I want to enable them: fast services on fast networks.
You are the competitive telecoms sector. Above all, you benefit from market change, innovation and dynamism; your business models are built on creativity. Rocking the boat is your job. If you do so, the benefits are huge: not just for you but for every company and every citizen. Every one of you has the potential to become the "Next Big Thing". And in the right ecosystem you can realise that potential: innovate, grow and thrive.
To do that you must take every opportunity open to you. And I want you to be able to do that. But let's be clear. We rely on your creativity, and the pictures you paint can dazzle Europe.
My job is to ensure you have the canvas to paint on.
I want you to compete, innovate and disrupt. But you cannot do so on networks that do not exist. Today, only 2% of Europeans have 100 Megabit subscriptions. And the networks are not there. We need to adapt to this new world, create the change and dynamism that you rely on, invest in those networks. And that investment absolutely needs the right legal framework. Otherwise you just won't be able to run those new services.
Many are out there simply defending today's business models. But truly competitive businesses know the secret is to innovate and adapt.
Today's business models are based on today's situation; in turn influenced by today's legal framework.
Let's break out of that vicious circle. Because the future can be different, and should be. A changing market needs a framework that responds. To enable and support fresh, new ways of working, fit for the future; to embrace the new, not cling on to the old. Not to impose new models – but to enable them.
New ways of communicating could be incomparably different. So let's not start from where we are, but where we want to get to. Let's focus on what the world could look like if we get it right.
Because then there can be win-win outcomes. This is not about higher prices or lower prices. The fact is, the higher the quality and range of services, the more people find value in them: and the more they are prepared to spend on them. That would be a benefit for everyone. So let's make that possible.
I know you'll be thinking about the impact on you and your own business. But I'm looking beyond the interest of any one company, any one country, any one sector. I'm looking at the whole thing. At the whole ecosystem and the whole European economy that depends on connectivity for its competitiveness.
I really worry if we fail to act. We would not face the future but sink back to the comfort of the status quo. I worry about businesses that use the single market being left stranded without the communications to match. I worry about you not being able to innovate, grow, compete. If not dying then becoming a pack of zombies. I worry about the competitiveness of our continent—as American and Asia take the lead.
Let me give you an analogy. Once airlines too were dominated by big national carriers. I remember that well from when I was Transport Minister.
But EU action liberalised the market, brought down barriers. And huge innovation followed. Incumbent airlines compete against upstarts. Europeans enjoy the benefits: a range of different ways to fly, more choice of routes, lower prices. The benefits of a connected continent.
At the time, changes were bitterly opposed; especially by incumbents. Yet who can now imagine going back to how we once were.
Today it's the same situation.
I know you want to see that change happen. And I know you want the chance to compete not just on yesterday's services, but tomorrow's. And I know that those services simply won't exist without investment in fast networks.
So you may have your views on the perfect solution. Fair enough. But I hope you can agree the status quo is definitely not optimal, and not sustainable. Not for the sector, not for the continent. And time is running out.
If you agree with that, then make your voice heard. If you agree that this sector and its framework need change, then say so. If you want the ICT sector to grow—in revenue, in quality, in opportunity: then say so. If you agree that this should be a priority to stimulate the European economy: then say so.
And let's ensure decision makers hear: MEPs and Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents. Let's make sure they hear about the benefits we could all enjoy in a connected continent. Thank you.