The European Commission is aiming to boost the transition to the Internet of the future while at the same time preserving individual rights, seeking a greater role for itself in the governance of the Web, Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding told EURACTIV in an interview.
Viviane Reding is the European commissioner for Information Society.
How far developed is the Internet of Things?
It is just at the beginning. But we are seeing that it is moving more and more quickly from pilot projects to reality. It is working well in transport and we are applying it in other areas such as health and weather control. And also for car-to-car communication.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are at the core of the Internet of Things. A key issue centres on the deactivation of tags embedded in objects after their purchase. Consumer groups are lobbying for this, while operators warn of extra costs and the loss of potential benefits of tags which are always switched on, including the recall of dangerous items and recycling.
True. But the decision should be up to citizens. If you want better services or if you want to have more privacy, it should be your own choice. We have to leave this to citizens.
In many cases, the Commission is underlining privacy risks. Do you think this could hamper the roll-out of RFID?
I think there is an economic advantage and a social advantage to RFID. But we have to explain to people what tags mean, and we have to leave them to choose whether they want to activate them or not. It is about European values. The value of privacy is very strong in Europe and we are going to preserve it.
The Internet of the future also needs updated networks able to support increased traffic and nomadic use. In Brussels, the debate has recently focused on Next Generation Access networks. What about wireless technologies?
On fibres, we have just issued a Communication on next generation access and now the issue has to be handled by national regulators. As for wireless broadband, I have issued a communication urging member states to have a 50/50 distribution of the digital dividend, which will come when analogue is switched off (EURACTIV 13/06/08).
The French Presidency of the EU is calling for broadband for all?
The French Presidency took over one of my slogans. I have always been pleading for broadband for all. That should be our goal. Now we are standing on average at a 20% penetration rate, the same average as in the United States. But four of our member states are world leaders in broadband penetration. They are even ahead of South Korea. Moreover, when you come to coverage, this figure dramatically rises. There are many member states where coverage is up to 100%.
Due to the current penetration rate, don’t you think the objective is too ambitious?
If you have goals which are not ambitious, you will always be slow. We have to win the race for broadband. It will have huge economic and societal impact.
Do you have a target year to reach this objective?
We did not set any deadline.
It is important to build new infrastructure but it is also crucial to protect it. The Commission is going to publish a document on the protection of the critical infrastructure for the information society in 2009. Can you tell us more about this?
We are elaborating this strategy because the Parliament has decided not to have infrastructure protection in the new telecoms authority. Therefore, we have to look to other means in order to protect our backbones which are at the basis of our economic development.
The future of the Internet is also a question of governing its development. What is the role of Europe in the governance of the Internet, which has been so far an almost exclusive US business?
The governance of the Internet is of outmost importance. We will have to apply European rules on freedom of the Internet and on protection of individuals and their own freedoms. We think that is important to have regional hubs for the governance of the internet and we are going to build those hubs.