Ignoring The Internet Could Stall Economy, Warns EC

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Cooperation between the public and private sectors on open Internet platforms is key to Europe’s future

The European Commission has warned that a failure to embrace new open platforms for the development of the Internet in Europe could have repercussions equal to the global economic crisis.

In a speech this week at the Future Internet Assembly Valencia, Neelie Kroes vice president of the European Commission and commissioner for the Digital Agenda explained the importance of “Public Private Partnerships” for the development of future internet infrastructure and projects.

Open standards and platforms required

Key to achieving  these future internet projects is the development of open standards and open platforms according to Kroes. “What I am describing here is an open system where innovation is central. This will lead to thousands of services delivered via an enhanced broadband network and supported by a shared European framework,” she said.

The approach could be described as an “Open Service Sphere”, Kroes said. “As such, the target is not to invent the Internet of tomorrow, but to provide the sophisticated open framework that will lead innovators to invent it themselves,” she added.

According to Kroes, if industry and the public sector across all member states fail to cooperate sufficiently on development of the Open Service Sphere, Europe runs the risk of being left behind. “At the end of this process, my goal is to have both sides of future internet R&D – technology supply and application demand – working as one to build this open platform,” she said. “Failing to achieve this would lead to more than a benign fragmentation. It would, in fact, be a tragic mistake for Europe. It would lead to reduced competitiveness and difficulty in meeting the social aspirations of our citizens, on a scale similar to the GDP reductions we have experienced in this crisis.”

European companies and government must accelerate cooperation on developing internet projects, said Kroes. “So today I am issuing a challenge to industry and Member States: we need to pick up the pace in the future internet race. We need to do this to avoid economic irrelevance and diminished social outcomes.”

Kroes cited the example set by countries such as South Korea to show the importance of high-speed broadband. “ICTs are responsible for 50 percent of Europe’s productivity growth. But much more could be achieved,” said Kroes. “For example, the top 40 percent of households in South Korea have access to internet 100 times faster than the top 40 percent of European households. We under-invest in these networks and ICT at our peril.”

Kroes went on to point out the importance of cooperation across Europe on Internet research and development to avoid fragmentation and duplication of effort. “Fragmentation of research funding and effort is a recipe for disaster in this global economy. To prevent this from happening we created a Single Market and the European Commission. So do not be surprised when Commissioners like myself urge Europeans to avoid nationalistic tendencies. We do so because looking after one’s own backyard never works in a global economy; this is the opposite of the spirit of partnership,” she said.

Discussing what the future of the internet would look like, Kroes said that short term changes such as the rise of mobile and video content were important trends but that Europe should look to real potential of the internet to connect devices and people.

“When we speak of the umbrella concept of the Future Internet, we are talking about the possibility that in the future every person and every thing could be connected to each other wirelessly, from virtually any position on earth. Think about that for one moment. Isn’t it extraordinary?,” she said.

The UK government recently announced that it had dropped plans for a levy on phone lines, which was designed to help pay for improving the nation’s broadband services. The 50p-a-month “phone tax” or “broadband tax” was originally proposed in the Digital Britain report in June 2009, to create a fund which could be used to subsidise faster broadband in areas where it isn’t economic.

 


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