30 April, 2014

ETNO's Chairman Speech at #NewDAE14 workshop

ETNO's Chairman Luigi Gambardella outlined the profile of the new digital consumer, a content-enthusiast and data-hungry consumer who's re-shaping the digital markets. Such markets are dynamic and fast-changing environments driven by innovation and new, disruptive services. The main question then is: which consequences should policy-makers draw from this dramatic change? ETNO offers here some initial reflections on a New Digital Agenda for Europe.

Dear Colleagues, Distinguished guests,

The context, the momentum

in two months the Greek Presidency of the EU will hand over to the Italian Presidency. At that time, we will have a new European Parliament and the current European Commission will be about to hand over its results, victories and open challenges to the next College of Commissioners.

Today is then the right moment to have a frank, open and forward-looking debate about the policies of the future. Much has been said about the challenge that fast-moving societies pose to policy-makers. And much has been said about the need of building future-proof policies, especially at a time in which the evolution of technology is shockingly fast.

We all know that, if this is true for policy-making in general, it is even more true when talking about digital policies that impact technology development.

The digital agenda & today's global debate

The Digital Agenda for Europe has been a big effort, initiated by Commissioner Kroes back in 2010, with the aim to vigorously push digital policies at the top EU political priorities in order to face the economic slowdown by reigniting growth. Today, nobody denies that Digital is a top priority of any political agenda, but many critical challenges still remain open: Much has been achieved, much has still to be done because much has changed in our societies and in the markets since 2010.

Because societies and markets are global no rethinking of the digital agenda can be done without taking into account the global context.

Let me take it from San Paulo where I was last week at the NETMundial multi-stakeholder conference. We had an extraordinary occasion to have an open discussion about the challenges of the internet era:

  • First, the importance attached by all stakeholders to the meeting showed that the Internet and the digital economy have become too important to our societies to be dealt with by a small community of tech-savvy people. Nor can they be relegated to local solutions. More stakeholders want to be involved, from more geographical areas and from different and new communities than those involved so far;
  • Second, privacy and security have been recognized as a major concern by all the participants. Treatment of personal data is of huge interest and of huge concern for all.
  • Third, there is an open debate at the global level on how to ensure the sustainability of the internet ecosystem and, therefore, if and how we should regulate on net neutrality. There is a growing awareness, in the international community, that while we all need to preserve and foster the openness of the Internet, we cannot do it by killing innovation and by hampering the efforts to improve networks quality.

Then, my question to all of you is: to what extent are we ready to tackle these questions and challenges with a view to redesign the future agenda, if we are to be digital leaders and not digital followers?

The Digital consumer: a new subject at the core of policy-making

The debate at the global level is not evolving because of philosophical speculations. It rather evolves because reality, societies and markets do. Is the profile of today's digital consumer the same as the one of when the Digital Agenda for Europe was first conceived?

How has the experience of such digital consumer changed due to the availability of new services and the development of the corresponding markets?

If the digital consumer were our son, he would have grown to a new person today. In 2009, there were roughly 950 million social networks users in the world. Estimates for 2015 suggest that there will be almost 2 billion users worldwide. It's the double.

Along these lines, also the way in which people exchange messages has changed. The growth of Whatsapp users in four years after its launch is dramatic: from 0 users they are now at 500 million active users, who exchange 700 million photos per day.

But our digital consumer has also grown to a data-hungry person and content-enthusiast person. In 2011 Spotify had a bit less that 1.5 million unique visitors. At the end of 2013, they were almost 4 million. And we can say the same about video: Netflix subscribers grew from roughly 20 million to almost 40 million between 2011 and the end of last year.

This exciting and thriving internet ecosystem brings new opportunities and new challenges. The evolution of the digital consumers' profile has also an impact on how our networks are used.

Ericsson has calculated that the mobile data traffic will grow from almost zero Exabytes in 2010 to 4 Exabytes in 2014. The main responsible of this growth is video, which is already today the largest segment of data traffic in mobile networks.

A new Digital Agenda to put Europe back on the internet map

There is an awful amount of data that we can mention to prove the point that reality has changed. But there is a more pressing question: where is Europe on today's internet map?

If we look at the value chain, we must recognize that telecom operators are the only jewel left in Europe's digital crown.

This does not mean that we don't want Europe to focus on facilitating start-ups growth or re-gaining leadership in manufacturing. On the contrary, our companies are strong advocates of such policies, and invest daily in supporting start-ups and in improving Europe's digital ecosystem.

But let me tell you more: at ETNO, we are strong believers that better telecoms policies and better telecoms regulation are the pre-requisite of a stronger European digital economy, in which a variety of players thrive, building opportunities for social and economic growth. We want a new Digital Agenda to put Europe back on the Internet map by leveraging network operators’ potential.

For this reason, the Digital Agenda of the future needs to take into account all the changes that I discussed before and, most importantly, create a simple, future-proof framework to facilitate the work of those who want to invest in our connected future.

  • We need a Digital Agenda that recognizes the new challenges of mobile connectivity. We want policies that help us speeding up 4G deployment and that pave the way to a European leadership in 5G.
  • We need a Digital Agenda that acknowledges the vital role of the development of ultra-high speed fixed networks via more investment friendly and up-to-date telecoms rules.

We also have a big political choice to take when thinking of how these rules should evolve: either we allow European players to become stronger at home – and therefore relevant on the global scene – or we let non-EU companies shop for shrinking European telcos. I believe this is a politically relevant choice, and it will be mostly in the hands of competition authorities.

  • We need a Digital Agenda to build Open Innovation, where interoperability and portability help us unlocking new opportunities in a world often too dominated by closed operating systems.
  • We need a Digital Agenda that stimulates demand in a holistic way, by leveraging the potential of other industries and by recognizing that a smarter society is built also upon smarter cities, smarter cars, smarter homes and by a truly digitized public administration.
  • We need a Digital Agenda that stimulates a new approach to content distribution, by building a digital single market for content, from which all Europeans can benefit
  • We need a Digital Agenda that puts European citizens back in control of their own personal data and ensures online security, while unlocking the access to the big data goldmine also for European businesses.

A coherent vision & a new governance to build Europe's digital renaissance

We are all clear that the future Digital Agenda will need to be the result of a shared process, in which all the different stakeholders are called not only to put forward their own priorities, but rather to challenge the status-quo and aim at a more ambitious scenario from which everybody can gain.

For this to happen, I believe that we need a new wave of modern policies, focussing on those crown-jewels that can be exploited not only to re-ignite growth, but also to bring Europe back to the global leadership position it deserves. ICT, and telecoms in particular, do have a key role to play in this. Our companies, our institutions need to streamline their efforts towards strengthening the competitiveness of the Continent, to ultimately benefit our citizens and our society.

For this reason, I would like to launch a challenge to our audience today. As we all know, good EU policy-making largely depends on how the European Commission is organized. Director General Robert Madelin has put a lot of efforts in working on how to best organize the DG, and he brought about an impressive transformation process from DG INFSO to DG CNECT. So, my challenge to all of us is: why shouldn't the new Commission build upon the extraordinary experience of DG Connect and other DGs dealing with growth-sensitive policies? Why shouldn’t we have a bigger, stronger and more ambitious DG that prioritizes growth and innovation-oriented policies?

Our digital consumer has grown. Our societies have grown. Our companies are growing alike to better serve consumers' needs in such a fast-moving environment. Also our policies an our organizations need to grow, transform and adapt to this new context.

Let us discuss all together how to craft Europe's new digital crown, one in which EU's telecom operators are the enabler of many new digital jewels.

© ETNO 2023
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