WASHINGTON, June 3, 2010 – One half of European productivity growth over the last 15 years can easily be attributed to information and communications technology, according to the European Commission.
The commission is hoping to continue this trend by unveiling last month the Digital Agenda for Europe. The agenda outlines ways to embrace technologies contributing to the European Union’s economic growth and spread its benefits throughout European society.
The agenda is the first of seven major initiatives to be enacted under Europe 2020, an economic growth strategy.
The technology agenda outlines seven priority areas:
1. Creating a digital single market;
2. Creating greater interoperability;
3. Boosting internet trust and security;
4. Providing much faster Internet access;
5. Investing more in research and development;
6. Enhancing digital literacy skills and inclusion; and
7. Applying information and communications technologies to address challenges facing society.
Current EU online markets are separated by country borders, which make it difficult for many to access pan-European digital services. In creating a single market, the commission hopes that Europeans would be able to access commercial services, such as electronic payments and invoicing, and cultural entertainment available across the region. In order to actually increase the access to online content, the commission plans to simplify and make universal copyright laws and cross-bordering licensing practices.
To increase the confidence in online privacy protection, the agenda pushes a better-coordinated response to cyberattacks by government authorities. It also calls for reinforcing and universalizing privacy rules to help Europeans embrace online technologies.
In a survey conducted by the European Commission, 30 percent of Europeans claimed to never have used the internet. While privacy concerns and distrust loom large for some Europeans, most of the non-users were from low-income households or part of Europe’s aging population, according to the commission.
The agenda calls for teaching these groups technology skills, citing health, political, and public services that are increasingly moving to online content. For example, by 2015, patients in Europe should have access to online medical records regardless of where they are located in the European Union.
In addition to social benefits, the agenda also sets technology objectives for the future. The European Union has set target internet speeds of 30 megabits per second or higher for every European citizen by 2020, and that half of the population should have connections of at least 100 mbps. It also wants more Europeans to have faster fiber-based Internet connections — comparing the current 1 percent of Europeans to the 12 percent of Japanese and 15 percent of South Koreans with fiber-based connections. In order to achieve these speed goals, the agenda advocates researching means to attract investors to broadband and fiber-based networks.
The digital plan also calls for more emphasis on information and communication technologies research and development. Current EU investment in ICT is less than half of the United States levels. In 2007, the United States spent $107 billion compared to Europe’s $45 billion in research and development, making it difficult for Europe to economically compete with other countries in an international market.
Vice President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes emphasized the urgency in enacting these changes, saying, “The digital world affects us all – there is no choice about that. But we can take the decision to use these changes to boost European growth, jobs and the well-being of our citizens. That is the decision the commission is taking today, and we call on all those with a stake in this digital future for Europe to join us in moving forward.”
Kroes, who is the EU commissioner in charge with implementing the digital agenda, commented in her blog this week that in the future it may be possible that “every person and every thing could be connected wirelessly from virtually any position on earth. Such a development should not be taken lightly. There is great potential in the Internet of Things, but also serious privacy and ethical issues. How we develop these networks should depend on our values, not on the technology.”