Neelie KROES
Vice-President of the European Commission

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Building a connected continent

Building a connected continent

Today, Commission President Barroso made his State of the Union speech. And in it was a very important announcement about Europe's digital future: our plans to create a Connected Continent.

Soon, internet infrastructure could be supporting everything we do: from flexible business services, to smarter living environments, to better healthcare. As such it could help fix many of Europe's current challenges: boosting competitiveness, creating jobs, and supporting better public services.

Global competitors caught on to this long ago; Europe, once an ICT leader, is now lagging behind. Japan, South Korea and the USA combined have around the same population as the EU – but over 8 times more fixed fibre broadband, and almost 15 times more 4G.

The ICT sector represents some of the biggest companies in the world: and Europe needs to play its part. Europe has so much talent and capacity to use and innovate with these new tools. I've seen that that vividly in my travels, like meeting all the young web innovators at Campus Party in London last week. And I've seen some of the difference that could make to people's lives, from smart cities to eHealth.

But, without the right domestic digital environment, even once-strong European players struggle to compete; as the news about Nokia reminds us. This matters not just for the ICT sector, but for the wide and ever-growing range of sectors that depend on connectivity for their competitiveness – from transport to television. Not to mention the businesses in every sector who will come to rely on new innovations like videoconferencing, the cloud or 3D printing.

In short, without the infrastructure to compete, we aren't going anywhere – in any sector.

It is time to act; in fact it is already overdue. Current trends are unsustainable for the sector, and unsustainable for our whole economy. The single market boost can revive the European telecoms sector, and help our whole economy: but we must move fast.

That won't come about by rent-seeking in protected national markets. It won't come about from a sector that seeks to block new ideas or maintain scarcity, frustrating the economy's need for connectivity and innovation. Nor by looking backwards to yesterday's cash cows – like unfair surcharges from intra-European calls and sky-high roaming margins.

Rather, the telecoms sector needs the scale to compete globally. It needs to focus on investing, to offer plentiful, open broadband access for all. It needs to look forward to the digital opportunities of the future: new innovative services people will want to pay for.

So the Commission is putting forward targeted changes to telecoms regulations. Singe market measures that can serve consumers and grow the market.

Those measures include:

  • New rules that make it easier for operators to work across borders. For example: so they can work in  multiple countries – without negotiating separate bureaucracy and seeking separate formal authorisations in each one; serving people from across Europe without discrimination.
  • Giving operators more consistent access to fixed internet networks in different countries. Plus new rules on spectrum mean more wireless broadband for more Europeans – and more consistency makes it easier to plan networks across countries. That will help citizens and businesses get the cross-border communications services they are crying out for – and help 4G roll out faster.
  • New rules to support public WiFi – so it's even easier to stay connected when you're on the go.
  • Our proposals wouldn't create a single EU regulator – even though, in a true single market, that could ultimately be the most logical solution. But I do want to ensure national regulators can coordinate more strategically – by giving the Body of European Regulators a full-time, professional chair - with a stable, 3-year term.
  • Fairer charges when you call another EU country from a landline or mobile (where often today you face an unjustified surcharge);
  • Better consumer rights to ensure you get the internet speed and quality you pay for – your contract will have to state clearly the speed (at peak times – not just some theoretical maximum);
  • A new, more stable and certain framework to support investment in new faster broadband networks (that matters if you're among the nearly 50% of European households with no fast fixed broadband coverage).
  • It's hard to claim you're bringing down barriers as long as roaming charges remain; those wouldn't exist in a true single market. So we are proposing measures to bring about the end of roaming within Europe once and for all. First, no more charges at all for receiving a call within the EU. And, second, a new deal so you can "roam like at home" at no extra cost – with measures to encourage those deals onto the market as soon as possible.
  • Plus I am putting forward new safeguards to ensure access to the open internet. Today, millions of Europeans find services like Skype blocked, or their internet access degraded: my proposal will end those discriminatory practices. Extra new "specialised services" (like for IPTV, e-Health, or cloud computing) would be allowed only if they don't cause general impairment of regular Internet access.

I'm sure it is roaming and safeguarding openness that will grab most of the attention. That's understandable given how visible (and frustrating) unfair charges and blocked services are for citizens – and both are important areas for EU action. But this proposal goes much wider.

Our proposal is about growth – about ensuring strong, healthy EU telecoms players who can think European to compete globally, and support growth across our whole economy. It's about fairness – ending rip-off charges and unfair practices by telecoms operators. And it's about leadership – the ICT leadership Europe once had, and that we desperately need to recapture. New data services can support every European citizen, every sector of our economy, every innovative entrepreneur – so it's time to expand their ambition beyond borders and really seize that opportunity.

I know that many in Europe recognise this imperative; that is why EU leaders specifically asked for these proposals. I hope all EU politicians can now treat these issues with the seriousness they deserve, so we can ensure digital opportunities in a digital Europe.

Check it out on our website, the press release, or on Twitter with hashtag #ConnectedContinent


  • Thank you for sharing the proposals, some quick views: 1. The proposal suggest strong centralisation. Member states will not support this nor will parliament. The proposal removes national defenses, simply strips the nation state from the ability to act under a notion of "discrimination". That is even more a concern as the European level lacks governance over the communication providers. 2. For public wifi the issue is intermediary liability risks. Does the proposal solve the issue? Not yet. 3. The drafting quality of the regulation proposal is low by Commission standards, it looks like a dirty snowball. Key aspects for an open internet like open standards are not even mentioned. No real sense of Ordnungspolitique. 4. Nokia is a clear failure and I hope the right conclusions are drawn in Finland and Brussels.
  • I can't wait till these new rules will be implemented; I will then get a mobile contract from another E.U. country where I can see the prices and the services are better and more attractive. Why should I pay for less when I could pay for a lot more!? I really hope that soon the European Union will have one country code and we will be able to chose the provider from a large paneuropean palette. If Vodafone Italy dissapoints with the services provided then I will choose Telefonica from Spain or Cosmote from Romania or why not O2 from the UK!
  • Metcalfe's law and the network effect (and practically every competitive market driven supply/demand clearing example over the past 30 years) have clearly demonstrated that the core trumps the edge. That said the core and edge are symbiotic, as are the upper and lower layers. Policy makers, academics, trade and investors need to recognize that vertically integrated service providers do and cannot scale every layer and boundary point across artificially constrained demand. They ultimately fail without a government granted monopoly. Horizontal networks/exchanges in the lower, middle and upper layers are the future and the lesson we've been learning these past 30 years since we've marginally introduced competition. The simplest, best, most economic and most generative model is open access in layer 1 for every service provider granted a public ROW or license with the quid pro quo that every user has a right to access, which cannot be prevented within economic and aesthetic reason by local governments and landlords. At the same time, govt should foster (not regulate) balanced settlement systems. The tradeoff between the two can be considered the "grand compromise" between the access providers and the content providers. The result is to watch an explosion of core-driven synchronous HD VPN's that drive edge access. Governments should still have a role of analysis and oversite to prevent any long-term sustained monopoly at any layer or boundary point that might arise. But the latter is unlikely in a relatively open, competitive market.
  • Bravo to Neelie Kroes for launching a bold set of initiatives to get Europe really connected. There are incentives for all operators to roll out high speed networks even in a challenging economic environment. The European sector needs a shake up or else we will fall further behind other regions of the world.