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Speech by Gunnar Hökmark, MEP, Rapporteur on the Multiannual Radio Spectrum Programme

”The question is if we want to be in the lead in this development. If we want the world’s biggest economy to take the leadership in order to be the number one regarding competitiveness, innovation and markets. If that really is our sincere ambition, we can’t build our policies on presumptions making the same mistakes as we are laughing at today. I want Europe to be number one. Not number two and not number three, or number four” underlined MEP Gunnar Hökmark at the Polish Presidency Conference Perspectives for the development of the electronic communications market in the EU in Warszaw the 20th of October 2011.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 1943 the chairman of IBM famously stated that in his view, the world wouldn’t need more than five computers. Today we can note that he was slightly wrong. In 2020, which is the year of our common efforts to make Europe a leading knowledge economy, the forecasts say that there will be 50 billion devices connected to the Internet. That’s quite a difference. Not 5 but 50 billion. And the flow of information from each of these devices will be many times larger than from the five forecasted computers.

The IBM chairman should be forgiven. In his time, computers were something new and fantastic. And they were something totally different than the computers, laptops, smart phones and phones of today. Also society was totally different. That’s my important point here today. The society of today is totally different from the society not only in the 40’s but also in the 80’s and 90’s.

However, there are more recent experts who have made similar gaffes about the future. In 1981 Bill Gates, a person that few would argue is unable to discuss computers, said that “640 kilobytes of memory is all anybody with a computer would ever need.“

Would ever need!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

640 Kilobytes. Today the memory of a normal phone is counted in gigabytes. My regular mobile phone has a memory card of 1561 MB free and the phone memory itself has 228 MB free.

But also Bill Gates should be forgiven.

In 1981, we lived in another world. There was no Internet. No WebPages. No Facebook. No Twitter. No revolutions. Well, the revolutions started here in Warsaw and Gdansk. Solidarnos. Heroes of our time. The modern Poland was borne out of this movement of heroes. And the Polish presidency is the heritage of this movement.

In spite of no Internet. But the media technology had already changed. Satellite TV made borders hopeless to defend against information and modern media.

When the Soviet Union fell, it imploded because of the economy’s failure, the development of modern technologies, and, more than anything else, thanks to citizens and leaders with courage. But no Internet and no World Wide Web.

It took until 1995 and 1996 before we saw modern web pages, as we know them today.

The modern Internet that today is the core of most sectors of our societies has only 15 years of development behind it. And yet, it is so crucial for growth and productivity in our economies, so fundamental for competitiveness, so important for the Arab spring.

The force of information has proved that it can rock societies and undermine dictatorships. It’s the fear of regimes like the Chinese or the Iranian and the hope for students calling for freedom.

And it is the key to future growth, development and competitiveness. Neither IBM och Microsoft can be blamed for not seeing the magnitude of a development that lay in the future and couldn’t be foreseen.

Their mistakes should be forgiven because they could not foresee the magnitude of the modern information society and the logics of Internet and the digital society. Today, we do not have the same excuse because we are living in the change, with the exponential growth of new services and ever growing mobile data traffic.

We must not repeat these mistakes if we are serious about competitiveness and European leadership. We cannot ignore a fundamental shift that is not in making, not in future, but right here. We are in the midst of this revolution. And we must make the best of it. Anything else would be inexcusable.

For the last 5 years we have seen how the media that assisted freedom movements in the 1980’s converges with the Internet. Television is now not only broadcasted from satellites or terrestrial. It is also broadbanded. And only these last few years we have seen the emergence of apps, symbolising new services that neither IBM, Microsoft nor the heroes of Solidarnos could foresee.

The important thing with the apps is not the apps as such but the services they offer and distribute. As we are speaking, they are changing the logic of our economies. And we are only in the beginning of this process.

This is the digital agenda becoming reality. Information, debates, discussions, e-health, e-trade and all other services we can see develop right now. We are only in the beginning. There is much more to come, to surprise us in the future. And I mean literally tomorrow or maybe even today.

The question is if we want to be in the lead in this development. If we want the world’s biggest economy to take the leadership in order to be the number one regarding competitiveness, innovation and markets. If that really is our sincere ambition, we can’t build our policies on presumptions making the same mistakes as we are laughing at today.

A decade ago, Nokia was the rising star of mobile telephony. Now that our phones are small computers sending and receiving enormous amounts of data, Apple is the lead, higher up in the value chain, making much more money than Nokia. It is one of many examples. The US is overtaking Europe.

I want Europe to be number one. Not number two and not number three, or number four.

We all know we are challenged. That we need to reform in order to get the growth that can take us out of the huge crisis of debts and deficits. If we remain being 27 different markets we will be overtaken by other regions in the world offering bigger and more dynamic markets for new generations of telecom, devices and services, not to mention business models, information, communication, education and knowledge.

That’s why I as rapporteur for the European Parliament on the Radio Spectrum Policy Program have proposed and achieved support that we should sett our ambitions high, to be the best.

But that requires reforms that can make Europe the home of the most rapid development of telecom, devices, technologies, new services and digital markets.

In the US they aim to be the leaders. They aim to open up 500 more MHz for mobile broadband. And the mobile data traffic is accelerating there as well as here. In China they open up and are keen on creating the worlds best preconditions for mobile data traffic.

And so is the case in South Korea. In Japan. We were leading in the 1990’s. Now we are not.

Today in the US, there is an annual growth rate that between 2009 and 2014 will increase the data traffic 40 times. That is four zero. And the same applies in Europe. New generations of smartphones and tablets will increase the amount of services, users and traffic. If we are to be the leaders, we must be in the lead of this development.

It is not a question of if we need more spectrum for mobile broadband, but how much and how soon.

If we are to see the highest possible capacity and broadband speeds to emerge from Europe, we must create one single digital market. If we are to realise the vision of a 500 million consumer market where telecom services know no borders, sufficient and appropriate spectrum must be made available within the Union. The differences in 27 different national markets must not stand in the way for a European leadership.

We are now aiming for opening up the 800 band, and although some Member States already have freed up and auctioned out the 800 band, all Member States must make the necessary efforts to open up this band.

In my role as rapporteur, I have been very firm on keeping the deadline of 1 January 2013 because I do not want us to lose time, I do not want us to lag behind, I want us to be in the lead, to create a strong Europe where all SMEs, businesses and citizens can benefit from the many opportunities that the freeing up of the 800 Mhz band will bring.

Derogations should be used when appropriate, but the default rule should be that Member States shall free up this band for electronic communication services by 1 January 2013.

The 800 band is a step in the right direction. But it is not enough. That’s why I have proposed and received an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament for a target of making 1200 Mhz available for wireless data traffic until 2015. This is a minimum target in order to reach the ITU forecast, from 2006, made 5 years ago, of 1800 Mhz the year 2020.

This allocation should take place in the most cost effective bands under 2 GHz, as well as in the unlicensed part of the spectrum in higher frequencies in order to help the spread of WiFI and other short-range applications.

I find it interesting that a number of Governments in Europe, as opposed to the in US and in other parts of the world, say that we don’t need more, that they don’t think the traffic will grow in the same pace as all forecasts have said.

They might make them self to be right, because if we don’t increase and try to be in the lead, we will limit the traffic, and the growth, and the jobs, and the services, and the development, not globally, but here in Europe.

The may be right that we in 2020 as number three or four in the world will not need that much spectrum. If the lead of the development takes place in other parts of the world they may be right.

But just as the IBM chairman was wrong with his 5 computers and Bill Gates was wrong with his 640 Kilobytes, they will be terribly wrong regarding the development and our opportunities. So as rapporteur for the European Parliament I will insist, with the full support from all the main political groups, that we need to prepare ourselves to be number one. That should not be a radical idea for anyone.