Monday, May 24, 2010

A Digital Agenda for Europe

The BBC report the EU's plans to ensure that all European households have broadband speeds of at least 30Mbps by 2020, deliver universal broadband coverage by 2013 and get half of Europeans using public services and shopping online by 2015, as part of the Digital Agenda for Europe (one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy). As part of this, an additional report on the economic impact of ICT is available here and details of the overarching Europe 2020 framework are here.

Some extracts from the Digital Agenda Communication:
"More needs to be done to ensure the roll-out and take-up of broadband for all, at increasing speeds, through both fixed and wireless technologies, and to facilitate investment in the new very fast open and competitive internet networks that will be the arteries of a future economy. Our action needs to be focused on providing the right incentives to stimulate private investment, complemented by carefully targeted public investments, without re-monopolising our networks, as well as improving spectrum allocation."
“The Europe 2020 Strategy has underlined the importance of broadband deployment to promote social inclusion and competitiveness in the EU. It restated the objective to bring basic broadband to all Europeans by 2013 and seeks to ensure that, by 2020, (i) all Europeans have access to much higher internet speeds of above 30 Mbps and (ii) 50% or more of European households subscribe to internet connections above 100 Mbps.”
This is of particular interest in relation to developing UK broadband policy:
“Without strong public intervention there is a risk of a sub-optimal outcome, with fast broadband networks concentrated in a few high-density zones with significant entry costs and high prices. The spill-over benefits created by such networks for the economy and society justify public policies guaranteeing universal broadband coverage with increasing speeds. For this purpose, the Commission intends to adopt a Communication outlining a common framework within which EU and national policies should be developed to meet the Europe 2020 targets. These policies should, in particular, lower the costs of broadband deployment in the entire EU territory, ensuring proper planning and coordination and reducing administrative burdens. For instance, the competent authorities should ensure: that public and private civil engineering works systematically provide for broadband networks and in-building wiring; clearing of rights of way; and mapping of available passive infrastructure suitable for cabling.”
This is of interest in relation to the potential of re-using education broadband infrastructure, as alluded to in this previous post:
“...national, EU and EIB funding instruments should be used for well targeted broadband investments in areas where the business case is currently weak and, therefore, only such focused intervention can render investments sustainable... To foster the deployment of NGA and to encourage market investment in open and competitive networks the Commission will adopt a NGA Recommendation based on the principles that (i) investment risk should be duly taken into account when establishing cost-oriented access prices, (ii) National Regulatory Authorities should be able to impose the most appropriate access remedies in each case, allowing a reasonable investment pace for alternative operators while taking into account the level of competition in any given area and (iii) co-investments and risk-sharing mechanisms should be promoted.”
The approach to the "open internet" issue seems very sensible and balanced, following on from Neelie Kroes' previous announcements in this regard:
"The Commission will also monitor closely the implementation of the new legislative provisions on the open and neutral character of the internet, which safeguard users' rights to access and distribute information online and ensure transparency about traffic management. The Commission will launch a public consultation before summer 2010 as part of its more general commitment to report by the end of the year, in the light of market and technological developments, on whether additional guidance is required, in order to secure the basic objectives of freedom of expression, transparency, the need for investment in efficient and open networks, fair competition and openness to innovative business models."
And on the subject of money to support all this, Key Action 8 calls for a "a common framework for actions at EU and Member State to meet the Europe 2020 broadband targets", which will include rationalising EU funding for NGA and a new spectrum policy. EU member states should:
  • Develop and make operational national broadband plans by 2012 that meet the coverage and speed and take-up targets defined in Europe 2020, using public financing in line with EU competition and state aid rules, the Commission will report annually on progress as part of the Digital Agenda governance;
  • Take measures, including legal provisions, to facilitate broadband investment, such as making sure that civil engineering works systematically involve potential investors, clearing rights of way, mapping available passive infrastructure suitable for cabling and upgrading in-building wiring;
  • Use fully the Structural and Rural Development Funds that are already earmarked for investment in ICT infrastructures and services;
  • Implement the European Spectrum Policy Programme, so as to ensure the coordinated allocation of the spectrum needed to meet the target of 100% coverage of 30mbps internet by 2020, and the NGA Recommendation.
The broadband targets are summarized in annex 2:
  • Basic broadband for all by 2013: basic broadband coverage for 100% of EU citizens. (Baseline: Total DSL coverage (as % of the total EU population) was at 93% in December 2008.)
  • Fast broadband by 2020: broadband coverage at 30 Mbps or more for 100% of EU citizens. (Baseline: 23% of broadband subscriptions were with at least 10 Mbps in January 2010.)
  • Ultra-fast broadband by 2020: 50% of European households should have subscriptions above 100Mbps. (No baseline)
BT has recently published its future ambitions for NGA, as reported by the BBC and Fierce Telecom, but it remains to be seen how far these will dovetail with the EU's 2020 objectives. Over to you, Mr Vaizey?

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