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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Policies and regulation in the digital age: the new wave

Brussels, 13 October 2015

Speech by Vice-President Ansip in charge of the Digital Single Market at the FT-ETNO summit in Brussels

Ladies and gentlemen,

With technology, we live in exciting times. So much is being done digitally.

Every day, there seems to be a new digital development to make our lives easier and more convenient.

Billions of people own smartphones that are packed with useful apps.

They use wearable tech with sensors that link with mobile devices - fitness trackers, smartwatches, wireless headsets.

Social media has become a standard and everyday way to communicate.

Digital technologies have transformed how we live, work, communicate and play, how we do business.

They have a huge impact on the whole value chain, from products and processes to business models.

But technology rarely stands still. It is constantly evolving.

Traditional boundaries between products and services are no longer as clear as before. The concept of product ownership is changing.

People are becoming less attached to owning a product and more to using it as part of a service, particularly with mobile devices.

As Professor Tirole said in his inspirational speech: we are living in an era of change. An era of opportunity.

Digital technologies now make it possible for a company to develop innovative models to create value.

Take the sharing economy, which uses technology in entirely new ways to connect people to products and services. The potential here is enormous.

For the business community, going fully digital represents a major transformation. And also a challenge, to adapt and keep up.

Our times may be exciting. But they are also changing very fast.

That is why it is so important to prepare the ground for future technology advances, to get the right basic infrastructure – and policies – in place.

It is not an easy thing to do.

As politicians and legislators, we need to talk to people and businesses about how to design policies fit for today's challenge of rapid and constant change.

A case in point is the recent Court of Justice ruling on Safe Harbour. At this stage we need to give reassurances to citizens that their data is protected and to businesses, that free flow of data will be ensured in a fruitful environment. It is important that we hear your views on the implication of this ruling.

As we continue to engage with our partners in the United States – and all parties affected – we are also consulting closely with national data protection authorities so that we are in a position to provide clear guidance for companies.

From connected TV to cloud computing and eHealth, tomorrow's digital products and services not only depend on the internet and digital technologies.

They also depend on fast, reliable and effective broadband connections for uploading and downloading data.

Access to high-speed connectivity has become an integral part of our modern societies and economies. This means that over the next decade, we need to make top-class connections available everywhere in the EU.

These networks need to be built, quickly – and with the appropriate infrastructure. However, the type of high-capacity and high-speed broadband networks we are likely to require in the future do not come cheap.

Tackling the huge investment gap to fund the next-generation networks that Europe needs is a major long-term challenge.

The public purse cannot be expected to meet this shortfall.

This is why the ongoing review of EU telecoms legislation will look closely at how to incentivise and leverage more private investment.

We await your views in the public consultation that is now being held and I am sure that Commissioner Oettinger will talk more on this issue.

So I will now move to discuss competition: the backbone of our rules, both now and in the future.

Competition is also very relevant to our discussion on connectivity.

Why? Because to achieve our connectivity goals, we need a competitive telecoms sector to invest in quality joined-up networks.

As regulators, what we can do is to provide the appropriate environment to underpin a single telecoms market driven by fair competition.

That is our basic principle and starting point.

Pro-competitive regulation benefits consumers as much the telecoms industry.

It is competition that will attract the investment to develop the high-speed broadband networks that Europeans need.

So relaxing competition rules is not the answer.

That would only shift the cost of the required network investments onto consumers. They would then have less choice and higher prices.

It would be the opposite of what we want, which is for competition to develop.

For that to happen, other providers need fair access to essential infrastructure.

A competitive telecoms market is based on connections between different companies’ networks.

Industry consolidation is not necessarily the answer either.

Mobile telecoms companies across Europe are already investing in 4G/LTE networks, without merging their operations.

Modern network-sharing technologies allow operators to share mobile networks, without the need for consolidation.

However, a degree of consolidation can also bring potential benefits.

Cross-border consolidation, for example, can be a way to integrate networks as we move towards a pan-European telecoms market.

It can allow telecoms companies to expand beyond national borders and tap fully into Europe's massive customer base.

Each case should be judged on its merits, and whether customers will benefit.

Naturally, all are subject to scrutiny under EU competition law.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I said earlier it is important to prepare the ground for technology advances.

It will be difficult, if not impossible, to do so while we continue with 28 fractured markets. It is holding us back from creating a unified European Digital Single Market (DSM).

That does not mean regulating everything and everywhere from Brussels.

But in the areas where we do need common rules, they have to be applied consistently - throughout the single market – so that conditions are fair for all operators to compete on an equal basis.

Spectrum is a clear example of the fragmentation problem. It is still unresolved.

The more this natural resource is divided, the less efficient it is.

We can no longer rely on a system set up at a time when connectivity needs were very different from those of today and tomorrow.

The ever-changing technology landscape, the opportunities it creates for new business and industry models: all this makes it urgent to sort out Europe's spectrum issue.

With the telecoms review, we have another chance to do so.

Probably the last chance. I know you share this view.

Coordinating spectrum will help to attract investment into access and make the next 5G mobile communications generation a success.

It is a fantastic opportunity for Europeans and European industry.

It is also a vital building block for rolling out broadband services.

If we are serious about having a DSM across Europe and about efficient spectrum use, we need a common European approach on network coverage and performance.

That does not mean that EU countries should lose out financially.

They should be able to benefit from the allocation of this precious resource, which should be done in a consistent way so as to benefit all Europeans.

Our primary aim should be to coordinate spectrum so that everyone gets properly connected - everywhere.

It is the basis for a digitally enabled society.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Europe's telecoms rules were designed for the analogue world.

But since then, the world has changed.

There have been significant structural changes in networks and services.

Regulatory models across the globe are being challenged by innovative ideas, new digital business models and changing consumer demands.

Our rules now need updating for the digital age.

They have to become more conducive for investors and promote more competition.

No more barriers to access, splintered markets or national distortions.

With your help, we can work together to get all Europeans connected, build the DSM that we need and keep Europe's telecoms industry at the global forefront.


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