Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes explains the need for a more digitally smart Europe.
Innovation, investments and competition have been at the root of the telecoms business right from the start. But it has never been straightforward. 150 years ago, Alexander Graham Bell got the fame; but it was Antonio Meucci who actually invented the telephone. A simple lack of money meant he couldn’t afford the patent and could never make his creation flourish; Bell got there first. A great idea is just not good enough: you also need the right support and the right framework to make it work.
From Meucci’s invention, to the telegram, to the mobile and Internet, innovation in this sector has continued apace. Today, about one third of the global population can go online, using smartphones, PCs or tablets. And this is just warming up. In the near future you could also connect your car, your clothes or your coffee machine. All those devices going online will produce exponential amounts of data, which will need to find their way through our fixed and mobile networks. Voice calls, the centre of the telecoms business model since Meucci’s day, will take a back seat to new data services.
The character and role of the Internet is evolving rapidly. Technological developments go hand in hand with how we position ICT, including broadband networks, in business and society. No longer is ICT just a means to manage more efficiently or cut costs. ICT is becoming the central nervous system for all an organisation’s operations. Competitiveness is all about making intelligent use of connectivity, with a huge effect on boosting economic growth and solving society’s challenges. Being ahead of the competition means being ahead in ICT. It is only a matter of time before the trio of CEOs, CFOs and CIOs together lead their businesses into a fully connected future. Big data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things will be the economic and social deltas of the near future, fertilising astounding new growth.
The days of Meucci and ‘voice’ should be long gone, but sometimes their ghosts are still found wandering around Europe. Telecoms companies face barriers that hamper their dynamism and ambition, and they are left clinging on to old unfair practices like sky-high roaming charges and blocking competing services. It’s time the telecom sector changed to face the future: urgently. Political leaders, presidents and prime ministers, have called for timely adoption of our Telecom Single Market proposal, needed for Europe to stay competitive in a digital world. Economic sectors which depend on telecoms networks, from semiconductors to retail, have expressed their severe concerns if Europe does not step up its ambition and pace for this reform. We have got the right idea, but, as Meucci found, that is not enough to make the difference.
Acting together, the European Parliament, Council and Commission can guide Europe to a connected continent. Our citizens and businesses expect us to show ambition, leadership and results. And only a smarter, forward looking and competitive Europe can provide jobs for the future. So I hope we can rapidly agree and implement these proposals: then every European could start enjoying the benefits of a connected continent as early as next year.