The digital revolution, is Europe being left behind? – Article on Public Service Europe

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Most forecasts predict that new digital revolution will happen outside Europe, but not if we embark upon ambitious and concrete reforms – says MEP

Forecasts about the speed of technological developments have one thing in common. They are always wrong. In fact, even the most ambitious predictions about internet connectivity, demand developments and capacity requirements are constantly overrun by reality. Current forecasts that today predict that 85 per cent of the world’s population will have 3G coverage by 2017, or that global data traffic is expected to grow 15 times by the end of 2017, will doubtless be overtaken by market developments too.

Yet, these are impressive figures that will require ambitious policies. If Europe is to be home to the new digital revolution where new services and innovations create prosperity and economic growth, we need to have the fastest broadband speeds in the world. To generate growth and to get out of the crisis – Europe must display leadership regarding the internet, broadband, mobile data traffic and other services. All governments know that. The European Commission knows that. The industry knows it. And the rest of the world knows. All we have to do is to act, and we have to act now.

The Radio Spectrum Policy programme, adopted last year, is an important remedy to address this challenge. More frequencies and more capacity mean higher speeds and more growth. To meet future capacity requirements, we must now start discussions about freeing up the so called 700 MHz band for mobile broadband. Europe cannot afford to be reactive and hesitant on this issue, if we want to take the global lead. Our policies must be forward-looking, instead of conserving old structures.

Moreover, Europe needs a real push for the deployment of ultrafast broadband – which can deliver speeds of at least 1 gigabyte and beyond. The European Union’s current digital agenda targets that stipulate that all European households should have access to 30 Mbps, with 50 per cent of the households having access to at least 100 Mbps, is already outdated. Other global actors, including Japan and South-Korea, are already moving ahead with much higher speeds. If we do not want to continue to lag behind, we must set targets in gigabytes instead of megabytes. Some 50 per cent of EU households should have access to 100 Mbps by 2015 and not by 2020. That should be our target. In the same vein, we need to sharpen the high-speed target for 2020.

European funding for broadband can act as a catalyst for fibre investment, which can crowd in private investments that otherwise would not happen. This would connect the world’s biggest digital market and reach out to our universities, cities and capitals. We should make all the classical universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Salamanca, Bologna, Sorbonne, Heidelberg, Prague and Lund – for example – into global knowledge centres; attracting, developing and distributing excellence. Most forecasts predict that new digital revolution will happen outside Europe. But if we embark upon ambitious and concrete reforms, this forecast could also be overrun by reality – tuning Europe into a leading global hub in the future Internet economy.

Gunnar Hökmark is a Swedish MEP and vice-president of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament

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