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Speech at the European Commission conference “Bridging the Broadband gap” in Brussels on 14 …

Speech by Gunnar Hökmark MEP, vice chairman of the EPP-ED group and European Parliaments rapporteur on European Broadband Policy at the European Commissions conference “Bridging the Broadband gap” in Brussels the 14th of May 2007

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Mr. President, Madame Commissioner, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the year of 1996 we saw the first modern use emerge of Internet and Broadband. A very odd thing called World Wide Web became known as some sort of a hypermodern phenomenon. Some said this was a trend that would be replaced by other trends, because you couldn’t sit in front of a computer all day, they said.
Ten years later we can say two things for sure. The first one is – that they were wrong, very wrong. And the second one is – that is a good thing that these persons were not in control of the future of the Internet.
The development of Internet and broadband have transformed the global economy, integrated regions and countries with each other, created a dynamic paradigm where individual citizens, wherever they live, have opportunities never seen before regarding information, communication, influence, participation, consumption, professional life and entrepreneurship.
We are gathered here tonight because we recognise the role that communication technology can play in binding regions and societies together, boosting economical development all over Europe and raising living standards wherever people live.
Together we must therefore secure that no geographic area or group of people will be denied investment in new and faster technology.
With an internal market consisting of nearly 500 million people connected to broadband, Europe constitutes a globally unique and critical mass of users.
It is of a common European interest to have everyone connected to broadband. The value that the net has for each of its users depends on the number of other people connected. When everyone in the EU has the opportunity to have access to broadband, Europe will be characterised by immediate communications and cross-border integration, in a common market, in a way no other part of the world can experience.
There are four reflections that I would like to share with you tonight,
The first is that connecting Europe, all of Europe, from the utmost north of the Scandinavian Peninsula, to the south along the Black sea or the Greek archipelago,
from the cities of London, Paris and Madrid as well as from the Orkneys, Corsica and the Canarias is not in first hand a challenge or an opportunity for rural areas, for the utmost regions or what is sometimes called the periphery, as if one could call regions a periphery in a time when no one can say where the center is. No, that is not the case.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Connecting Europe is a strategic and common European interest for all Europeans, wherever they live, may it be in the big cities or the most utmost regions.
We have in Europe an unique opportunity, having the biggest internal market of the world and having the opportunity to establish the first, most innovative and most dynamic markets for e-trade, e-finance, e-learning, e-health, e-training, e- security, e-research, e-medicine, e-government, all services that will require a big market but could bind us all together. And nowhere else the critical mass is as big as here!
But if we are to be in the forefront developing services we need also to be in the forefront developing infrastructure and if we are to be in the forefront developing infrastructure we must in turn secure that we are in the forefront of developing services. That requires competition and ever new actors.
The second reflection that we need to consider is that the world will change the next ten coming years just as much as it has changed the ten last years.
The one thing we truly know for certain about the future development of broadband and Internet is that we do not know how it will develop over the next ten years, only that it will develop at least as much as it has in the past decade.

Today broadband fuels productivity growth in virtually every corner of the industrialised world. Broadband-equipped nations, cities, islands and regions stand to benefit from improved access to healthcare, better education, more efficient and convenient government as well as streamlined business processes – hence a higher standard of living.

That’s why it is important to be open for all new technologies, to all operators and to all new services. If we don’t want to be trapped in one technology and some services, not taking the full use of the competition of others, we need to adhere to neutrality between technologies, between different operators and between different service providers.

It is the dynamics of the markets we must secure rather than the centralistic control of the development of broadband, the services and the products.

Every new technological step will make the competition between rural areas and distant regions with the urban areas and the big cities more equal, that’s in the nature of the new technologies.

Forecasting is difficult, especially forecasting the future. But there are two things that can be said for certain about the future and that is:

first, things will not be as they are;

second: things will not be as we think.

The internet and the World Wide Web took its modern form mainly during 1996. Then we suddenly saw the rapid emergency of the web and Internet.

We do not now very much more today about the ten next year than we did then, but one thing we do know, more or less for certain, according to Moore’s law the capacity of chips and processors will double every second year, which means that the capacity of Internet and Broadband in ten years time will be tenfold compared to today. The change the next coming ten years will be ten times as powerful as the change the ten last years!

The third reflection is that the broad band in itself is not worth very much, without the content. The content and the users are what give the broadband the value for the user.

There is only one chance for Europe to be in the lead and to give regions and rural areas the best opportunities, to secure that we have the competition and the plurality that makes Broadband development in Europe just as or more dynamic than in other parts of the world. And this is much more in the interest of the distant regions than the capitals of our countries, because the development will come to them anyway.

That’s why we need to comply with competition rules, open markets and the best possible commercial preconditions for investments in products and services, if we are to get the investments, if we are to get the front services and if we are to be the biggest market for broadband.

My aim has been to focus this debate more on the content provided through broadband connectivity, than the construction of infrastructural networks as such. It is the content that brings the added value to the European citizens. Not the fibre or the radio beams!

By focusing on services and the facilities and simplicities that these bring/offer people from Castelo Branco in Portugal, Säjnäjoki in Finland, Waterford in Ireland, Constanta in Romania and Fgura in the Eastern parts of Malta – we can capture the true essence of what broadband connectivity really means to European citizens in their everyday lives.

Broadband has also enabled educational institutions to reach students well beyond local classrooms. Thereby distance learning networks, schools and universities can bring in experts to teach remote students online. In my report I therefore underline the aim of getting all schools and educational centres hooked up to broadband to ensure that all children and youth in the EU are connected. No child should be left of line!

And fourth, I furthermore want to stress the importance of Member States using regulatory-measures strategically and strict. It is of vast importance that policymakers create a regulatory environment that really encourages investment, rewards innovation and risk, and produces competition.

The task of the Union is not to finance the deployment of broadband in itself. That is the task of the dynamic powers of a free and open markets. Today’s speed of market-driven development is already high.

However, where such means are proven to be inadequate, public funding from the EU Structural and Rural Funds can be used as measures to boost a demand for services.

But union policies and funding must not distort the market, nor protect or favour incumbents or specific technologies. But having said that, there is no area where it is more suitable to make use of Structural and Regional funds than connecting Europeans with each other. I would even say that this is what EU-funding should give priority to, securing that we are connected with the most advanced technologies available.

Ladies and gentlemen, the world will change and we can make Europe take the lead in that change. At present we are in the middle of a revolution – a digital revolution – and with broadband speed the true power of Internet can be unleashed. And we now one thing for sure, this revolution will go on, and on, also the next-coming decades.

If we support the development of new innovations rather than existing technologies,

if we foster competition and entrepreneurship rather than old structures,

if we secure an openness for new services and markets rather than funding the old operators and

if we use the regional and structural funds in a strategic way, not for subsidising when it is not needed but for taking giant steps connecting all of us.

If we do that Europe will be in the middle of this dynamic change, and the middle will be everywhere, all over Europe. Let’s make Europe the most connected part of the world!