A new agenda for a Smarter Europe

  

2014 is the year in which the EU must speed up its effort towards building a Smarter Europe and the Greek presidency work on the mid-term review of the “Digital Agenda for Europe” will offer a unique opportunity to set an ambitious vision for the future, writes Luigi Gambardella.

Luigi Gambardella is the executive chairman of ETNO, an association representing EU’s biggest telecoms operators.

IP traffic is booming at an unprecedented pace, and it is expected to grow even more over the coming years. In 2017, it will reach 1.4 zettabytes per year, according to Cisco's figures.This means, for example, that the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made will cross Western Europe's backbone IP networks every 21 minutes.

These numbers and their astonishing magnitude are telling of the fact that the future will be more and more connected and that this trend should be embraced.

In order to exploit the enormous opportunities associated with this (r)evolution, in such fields as cloud, e-health, e-government, and many others, Europe needs to count on a thriving telecommunications sector. With their fixed and wireless networks, telecom operators constitute the digital spine of Europe: they carry every day the communications of hundreds of millions of people, businesses and governments.

Today, however, the EU telecoms sector is far from thriving. According to recent figures from IDATE and presented in the 2013 ETNO Annual Economic Report, the revenues of the industry are affected by a negative growth trend that has been ongoing since 2009. Declining revenues negatively impact on operators’ investments, contrary to what happens in other advanced economies: in the period 2011-2012 the overall sector’s CAPEX growth in the EU was negative (-0.2%), compared to strong growth in the US (+6.7%) and Japan (+7.5%).

In this context, policies and regulation have a key role to play and need to keep pace with market and technology developments. The overarching aim of EU policy-makers should be to shape a policy environment that attracts private investments.

Some important milestones have already been achieved by the work of the EU Institutions, driven by the “Digital Agenda for Europe”. Moreover, the fact that the Greek Presidency has put several ICT-related files among its priorities, including the important work with the European Parliament to advance the Connected Continent Regulation and the Regulation on reducing the cost of broadband deployment, constitutes a promising first step.

Another encouraging measure laid down in the Working Programme of the Greek Presidency is the mid-term review of the “Digital Agenda for Europe”. This can represent a great opportunity to pave the way for bold and forward-looking reforms.

EU institutions should ensure that this review sets an ambitious agenda to unleash EU’s potential to invest and innovate at continental and global levels, and inspire visionary leadership accordingly.

Such a review must start by setting the priority of a profound revision of the rules for the e-communications sector. The revision must take stock of the rapidly evolving ICT landscape and the emergence of new services, so as to identify how the current telecoms regulatory framework must be reviewed to better respond to the rapidly changing environment. The status quo is not fit for the reality that we are facing today and for the challenges ahead.

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