The information society
The Commission has adopted a Communication on interaction between developments in the field of the information society and the goal of economic and social cohesion which the Union has set itself. Its main conclusions are given below.
Recent progress in communication and information technologies (CITs) has reduced the effects of distance, bringing together industries traditionally not so closely linked (telecommunications, information technology and the media) and encouraging the creation of new economic activities. However, access to CITs in the Community does not take place on a level footing. To remedy this situation, the Commission makes various proposals for stimulating demand and investment in the field of CITs and for appropriate regulations in this sector.
The Member States and the regions are called upon to launch a series of initiatives which will help provide economic, social and institutional actors with appropriate tools and know-how with which to make the best use of information society developments and avoid the inherent dangers. All these actors should be involved in strategy discussions with a view to determining what applications and services linked to CITs can best meet demand. Partnerships with the public sector will help to mobilize the private sector and ensure that projects are both in line with commercial requirements and based on long-term viability.
With a view to completing or upgrading telecoms networks, the Commission recommends concentrating further expenditure on projects which will strengthen cohesion. The Commission would also like to see the Member States starting a wide-ranging debate on the problems of universal service provision and on legislative adjustments which might be made in this area, making sure of the active and direct participation of all the actors concerned, in particular in the less-favoured regions.
The Commission for its part intends to step up the internal consistency of its activities in the field of CITs, in particular under the Fifth Framework Programme for research and technology development. The results of the discussions within the Member States will be fully integrated into its legislative proposals.
Finally, the Commission expresses its firm will to use the Structural Funds as a way of providing on-going support for the efforts by the Member States in this field, as it has in the past despite the very modest budgets allocated to this type of activity. In this connection it is worth recalling the STAR and TELEMATIQUE Initiatives, and more recently the Interregional Initiative for the Information Society (IRISI).
Within the same general context, the Commission is organizing a conference at the end of January 1997 on how to take the issues surrounding the information society into proper account in the Community's structural policies, and it will be carrying out an assessment of the impact of programmes under the Structural Funds in this field. The new guidelines for Objective 1 will stress the importance of CITs in terms of the competitiveness of the least well-off regions. The Commission will also be setting up an advisory group, with an initial term of two years, which will be asked in particular to monitor demand in the eligible regions.
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