The top EU telecoms regulator criticised the European Commission’s plans to introduce this spring a labelling scheme to rank the cybersecurity of internet-connected devices, arguing it would only reinforce big tech companies’ dominance.
“I think this is an idea that must be really be challenged,” Sébastien Soriano, chair of French telecoms regulator Arcep and this year’s leader of Berec, the group of telecoms watchdogs from European countries, told euractiv.com on Wednesday (1 February).
The Commission is getting ready to present a method for certifying whether technology companies meet strict privacy standards, which is intended as a way to make consumers trust internet-connected machines at a time when the EU executive is encouraging firms to develop the so-called Internet of Things. Internet-connected devices can range from refrigerators that tell owners when to stock up on food or cars with automated brakes and entertainment systems.
An advisor to then-Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger said last autumn that the executive is considering creating a labelling system to rank technology products based on how safe they are against cybersecurity vulnerabilities, similar to an EU labelling programme that indicates whether electric items are energy efficient. Oettinger left the post guiding digital policy at the beginning of January and is now in charge of the EU budget. A Commission official confirmed yesterday that the labelling plan is still in the works.
“You have to make sure this doesn’t raise the barrier to entry and that this is really useful,” Soriano said yesterday (1 February), adding that the labelling scheme would “give the upper hand” to tech companies that already hold a big market share.
Soriano told a Berec conference on the Internet of Things that telecoms regulators might have to take a lighter approach to overseeing connected machines since the market is developing so quickly.
“We are the guys who opened up the Internet to competition and clearly the Internet of Things is a completely different story,” he said, calling the trend of more devices becoming connected to the Internet “A huge opportunity to have new players.”
National telecoms regulators were in charge of forcing state-owned monopolies to liberalise and of enforcing competition rules after telecoms markets in EU member countries were required to open up in the 1990s.
“One approach could be that we just have nothing to do. This is an international and innovative environment, so we just go back home,” he said.
“The first thing is not to choose too early a standard that would freeze the market. And especially what we have to not do is say that 5G is the big thing for the Internet of Things and we don’t want to hear about any other technology.”
The Commission has pushed for telecoms operators to develop faster next generation 5G networks and referenced 5G in its sweeping proposal to overhaul telecoms law last September.
A new French rule that allows regulators to take a light-handed approach to startups could be a template for encouraging companies across Europe to develop newer technologies and more internet-connected devices, Soriano suggested.
He also spoke out against the EU proposal to transform Berec into a formal EU agency that would be required to report to the executive and give the Commission voting rights in the regulators’ decisions. The European Commission proposed the change in September. It must be approved by the European Parliament and EU national governments before it goes into effect.
“I hope today we will give the impression that the new Berec can come from the inside,” Soriano told the Brussels conference yesterday.
The Internet of Things is a phrase used to describe the next step towards the digitisation of society and economy, where objects and people are interconnected through communication networks and report about their status and/or the surrounding environment. Devices and machines that haven't typically used internet connections are increasingly being made with some internet functions, like cars that rely on traffic sensors.
According to a recent European Commission study, the market value of connecting devices in the EU is expected to exceed one trillion euros in 2020, compared to 307 billion in 2013. The number of connections within the EU28 will increase from approximately 1.8 billion in 2013 (the base year) to almost six billion in 2020.
The study found investment programs or initiatives in this field in 13 member states. Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom appear to lead in terms of capability (investment growth, ICT diffusion, Government support) and other initiatives related to the Internet of Things.