I've spent the last two days exploring the links between energy and the digital economy at the Europa Forum in Lech in Austria. We had some fascinating discussions on issues including innovative public services, investment in energy and digital networks, and European support for integrated infrastructure solutions. The discussions, once again underlined the extent to which high-speed networks are the backbone of our digital economy and society.

More than ever, Europe needs adequate connectivity. This is true for each and every citizen. And this is also true for industry, for businesses, whatever their size, for schools, research and innovation centres, for public services across Europe, and so on.

Back in 2010, the Digital Agenda for Europe set broadband targets. The targets for 2020, were very ambitious at that time and I am happy they have progressively become a reference for public policy. I am also glad that important progress has been made in terms of broadband roll-out and take-up.

But, five years later, Europe's connectivity needs are continuously increasing. Worldwide, the consumer Internet traffic grew 26% in 2013. Until now, this has largely been driven by video-based usage. The number of hours people are watching YouTube per month is up 50% year over year and 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. It is estimated that Internet video traffic will reach the equivalent of 16 billion DVDs per month, or 22 million DVDs per hour by 2018.

In the future, the Internet of Things, the data economy, the abundance of content and increasingly cheaper and smarter mobile devices will only accelerate this trend. This means that availability of bandwidth as well as the ease, and affordability, of upgrading existing broadband networks are essential to building a vibrant digital economy and society.Against this background, I can only wonder which broadband targets we will need beyond 2020. I am wondering whether in the future an average SME with 30 employees can fully benefit from all the opportunities of a Digital Single Market with only a 30 Mbps Internet connexion. I am wondering whether a school - where, least 100 pupils learn online, at the same time, every day - can adequately prepare students for a connected digital world, if it is limited to a "superfast" 100 Mbps connexion. I am wondering why some communities, on their own initiative, are rolling out rural networks that deliver Gigabit connectivity, when the EU's existing targets are more than 30 times less ambitious. Thinking about our 5G ambitions, I am wondering how to maximise the potential of mobile connectivity while our current targets mostly focus on fixed locations.

I could find many more questions, but only one could sum up my concern: what capacity do our fixed and mobile digital networks need to fit our current and future connectivity needs beyond 2020?

I believe that we do have to ask ourselves this question: What targets should we be setting to be ready for our digital future? We need a cross-sector, cross-generational debate on future-oriented connectivity for Europe. I will consult widely in the coming months on this topic to make sure that we can have the right digital networks for our future.

 

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