Protection of users' rights will be a key element of future EU policies in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), according to the converging initial plans of different EU institutions.
The European Commission intends to present its new ICT 2015 strategy in April or May 2010. According to work begun by current Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, the first pillar of the new action plan will be the creation of a genuine consumer-friendly single market for online services.
In a letter addressed to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso in November, Reding lamented the low number of cross-border online transactions, which amount to just 7% of the total, while 60% fail for legal or technical reasons.
"This is a potential we cannot afford to waste," the commissioner underlined in her letter.
She also pushed for the development of high-speed Internet connections, e-inclusion and the use of ICT to green the EU economy.
Her views are in part echoed in a report on the digital agenda currently being drafted in the European Parliament. Spanish MEP Pilar Del Castillo (EPP), who is in charge of the dossier, underlined that "the person" will be at the core of the Parliament's policy action. "Rights", "connectivity" and "competences" are the key words of the report she will present in January, which is expected to be adopted by the EU assembly in March.
Skype mandatory on handsets?
Meanwhile, the incoming Spanish EU Presidency is busy shaping its own digital agenda, already labelled the 'Granada Strategy' after the Andalusian city where it will be launched at the end of April 2010.
One of the strategy's key point will be a charter of ICT users' rights, as underlined by Spanish Secretary of State for Telecommunications Francisco Ros Peràn at the annual ECTA (European Competitive Telecommunication Association) conference in Brussels yesterday (8 December).
The charter is expected to reaffirm basic online rights already protected by EU legislation, such as safety and security on the Web, online privacy and protection of minors on the Internet.
People familiar with the Spanish plans told EurActiv that the charter could also include the explicit right to use VoiP services on mobile phones, as part of a possible net neutrality right. The move is more than likely to trigger lively debate (EurActiv 16/07/09).
Mobile operators fear that allowing consumers to call via Skype from mobile handsets could seriously damage traditional telecoms services, slashing revenues while they are investing in improving infrastructure.
The counter-argument, which is increasingly endorsed in the United States, is that the Internet should remain free and neutral, allowing all services to develop without prioritising one or the other.
This means that operators offering Web connections via mobile phones should not be able to charge extra or deny consumers the use of services which are in direct competition with their own. This is seen as improving offers to consumers and favouring innovation.