The study finds that openness and connectivity are lined with each other and the emergence of a strong knowledge society. However, to ensure the hoped-for benefits, policy should focus on keeping the internet open to competition, innovation and user choice.
Today's report assesses different scenarios for the emergence of a ubiquitous information society. Four main trends in technology are likely to underpin the emergence and growth of such a connected society:
- Communications infrastructures are likely to converge towards a common (if complex) platform freeing Internet access from dependence on specific locations, devices, software, etc.
- Computing, storage, etc. will become ubiquitously available public utilities like water, power, gas etc.
- Human-computer convergence (including new interface technologies and Web 2.0 tools for harnessing the emergent capabilities of connected citizens) will greatly improve the two-way partnership between societal and technological systems.
- Internet itself will become an intelligent actor by means of web 3.0 (semantic web) technologies.
Based on these trends the study has developed some possible scenarios for the future of the information society. Experts were then asked to look back from the "future" with the benefit of "virtual hindsight" and recommend actions that should have been taken earlier (in the period 2009-2020). The scenario identified as the one entailing strong economic growth, diversity and significant interoperability to the benefit of the citizen (the "Connecting World Scenario of 2020") combines: an open approach to technology; a competitive business sector; public-private collaboration in setting standards and stimulating open innovation; and strong public governance working in concert with self-regulatory bodies.
The scenarios and impact assessments in this study are intended to provoke deeper and more rigorous discussions about the future Internet and the scope for policy. The issues identified as crucial for the European Commission to investigate, including among others:
- What does privacy mean in a changing virtual environment and how can it be assured?
- How can the right kinds of openness, Net neutrality, quality of service, etc. be identified and promoted?
- How should sufficient bandwidth be provided and allocated across Europe for a seamless mobile Internet?
- How can/should governance arrangements take into account new Internet ‘public goods’ and ‘public bads?’
- How (if at all) should governments promote or seek to influence Internet architecture development?
- How are concepts of identity as associated institutions and societal conventions affected by the evolution of the Internet, and what kind of Identity management systems does European development require?
- How much (and what kinds of) trust are needed, and should they be promoted through active investment and trust enhancing activity like trusted 3rd parties; effective cross border (legal) redress and enforcement?
- To what extent is early and public promotion of common standards desirable; in particular, how can standardisation and innovation be reconciled e.g. by pre-competitive procurement?
- What are the positive and negative effects of (enterprise) interoperability; how can efficient interoperability be strengthened, in particular across borders?
- How can technology and market-based complements to traditional policy be implemented?
The European Commission regards this study as an input to the ongoing formulation of the post i2010 agenda. A public consultation has just closed and currently the input from the public is being analysed. (IP/09/1221)
The study "Trends in connectivity technologies and their socioeconomic impacts: Policy Options for the Ubiquitous Internet Society," carried out by RAND Europe for the European Commission can be found here.
The EU's "i2010" strategy to boost Europe’s lead in ICT and unlock the benefits of the information society for European growth and jobs, adopted by the Commission in July 2005 (IP/05/643) comes to a close this year. This strategy, which was endorsed by all EU Member States and the European Parliament, sought to strengthen the single market for businesses and users and to stimulate ICT research and innovation. This policy of stimulating competition and empowering consumers has delivered concrete benefits and engendered a wealth of innovative policies across the EU.
Commissioner Reding called, on 9 July (SPEECH/09/336) , for a new "Digital Europe" strategy as policy approach for a single and consumer-friendly market for online content where ICT will be driving innovation, full connectivity, and a greener economy. The Digital Competitiveness report, factsheets, and the public consultation can be found here.