05 February, 2015

ETNO ThinkDigital Interview - “We need a Digital Single Market that encourages scale and simplicity”

In another ETNO #ThinkDigital interview, Google’s Theo Bertram explains why new investments and innovation are crucial 

The European Commission’s main aim is to create a harmonised market in Europe. How important is the EU Digital Single Market to Google, and how would you define it?

There are two great advantages for Europe in a digital single market. First, scale. If you’re a developer or online retailer in the US, you can easily reach 300m people. Europe needs to leverage its scale so that it can compete with the size of the US market. Second, simplicity. In Europe, if you’re developing a new start-up or service, you need to spend time considering the different regulations in each member state. That can be a costly and complex process. A digital single market that encourages scale and simplicity would help Europe’s developers and internet companies grow and compete.

The net neutrality debate is still high on the agenda of the EU institutions. What is Google’s view on how EU policy makers should address this issue?

The next generation of great Internet innovation will be built on networks that are many times faster than today’s. Developing affordable broadband networks with abundant capacity should be a key policy goal. From the perspective of a policymaker, the focus should be the root problem, rather than the symptoms. Net neutrality concerns are symptoms -- they appear where there is a lack of broadband capacity or a lack of competition. Rather than simply debating how to ration scarcity, we should all figure out how to get to a world of broadband abundance. Whatever your view of ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ lanes on the Internet, making sure more consumers have broadband access, at speeds far faster than today’s, should be a common goal.

What is your one suggestion to policymakers on how to create more broadband capacity in European countries?

A recent report by Analysys Mason showed that the so-called ‘OTTs’ have invested more than $100 billion in the physical fabric of the web over the last three years with the largest part - $35 billion - going to Europe. Recognising that European network operators and US internet companies are not in a zero-sum game but can work together for the benefit of Europe's consumers is key to unlocking Europe’s potential. Smarter partnerships between operators and internet companies are emerging, bringing new investment and innovation into the market in a way that helps both grow.

Do you think EU digital markets are over-regulated?

Europe needs investment and innovation. Rather than seeking to increase regulation on any part of the digital economy, Europe has more to gain by removing unnecessary barriers. I  also want to mention the ‘level playing field’. Rightly or wrongly, many of the calls for a ‘level playing field’ sound like one industry calling for more regulation on another. I understand that telecommunication networks are regulated differently to internet companies and that in many cases these operators face tough regulation, but European network operators and internet players are mutually dependent. We should be working together more on reforms that work for all: consumers, the economy and both our sectors. That’s how we’ll encourage investment and innovation.

By Alessandro Gropelli, @agropelli, Brussels, 05.02.2015


Theo Bertram, European Policy and Strategy Team Manager, Google

Before joining Google in 2011, Theo was Head of Public Affairs at Telefonica O2 UK. He was previously a Special Adviser to UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and was Head of the Research and Information Unit at 10 Downing Street.

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