Q&A: Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Monday, March 27, 2006 - 17:00 GMT Jump to Comments

European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, speaks to eGov monitor about Europe's increased investment in R&D, global competition, convergence and how ICT can improve European citizen's lives

Q1 Can you tell us briefly about your role and responsibilities as the Commissioner for Information society and Media?

We live in a digital age, marked by the convergence of communication networks, media content and devices. For example, web TV, on-line music, and movies on mobile telephones all offer very promising investment and market opportunities. It's my job to see that the rules and policies governing these areas converge too and keep pace with technological change. This is prerequisite for ensuring that market players have the confidence to invest, and that the EU single market delivers on its growth and job-creating potential. My goals are to:

create an open and competitive EU single market for information society and media services within the EU. This includes encouraging EU Member States to manage radio spectrum efficiently, so as to free up common wave bands for promising new applications, modernising the "TV without Frontiers" rules to meet the needs of on-demand, anywhere, anytime content consumption, and updating EU telecom rules, not least to cut the cost of using your mobile abroad,
boost EU investment in research on information and communication technologies (ICT) by 80%. Europe lags behind in ICT research, investing only EUR80 per head as compared to EUR350 in Japan and EUR400 in the US. We are pressing EU Member States to put more money into ICT research and get more out of it, not least by doing more to encourage commercial take-up of promising applications, and
promote an inclusive European information society. To help close the gap between the information society haves and have-nots, we encourage Member States to share best practices in electronically-enabled public services, and are ourselves taking flagship initiatives on technologies for an ageing society, intelligent vehicles and digital libraries.

Q2 Europe's key competitors devote over one third of their total public and private research spend on ICT, while Europe spends around 20%. How do you see Europe increase its share in ICT R&D to become more globally competitive, and what do you believe should be the role of private industries?

The gap in ICT research investment represents half of the total gap in research spending between the EU and the US. The European Commission has proposed to allocate EUR1822 million annually to ICT research. This would be an 80% increase in Community ICT research support, but discussions with the Member States and the European Parliament are still pending on the final EU budget. In these budgetary discussions, politicians should always keep in mind that investment in ICT is Europe's best-bet investment for future growth and jobs. European industry has an enormous potential to innovate and deploy new ICTs, but needs to invest in incorporating these technologies in its products, so as to sharpen their competitive edge. For example, nearly half of the 100 biggest European companies do embedded systems R&D and most of the top 25 European R&D spenders rely on them. These are not just ICT firms - they come from the automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics, medical systems, industrial automation and energy sectors too. Embedded electronics and software are expected to make up 33% of the value of medical equipment by 2009. Embedded systems research has a pervasive impact upon industrial innovation generally. Industrial research investment in embedded systems in Europe is estimated at around EUR15-20 billion per year, and firms that get involved in collaborative research are well-placed to benefit from its applications.

Q3 How would you like to see European ICT and media industries take advantage of convergence to improve Europe's competitiveness in the global economy?

The convergence of communication networks, media content and devices (e.g. Voice over IP, Web TV, on-line music, movies on mobile telephones, etc) offers very promising investment and market opportunities. Convergence is transforming European information, communication and media industries by bringing in new players and modifying traditional value chains. Fixed and mobile networks are being deployed, with new electronic devices and content processing technologies opening the way to new applications. Above all, the Internet is changing the economics of whole communications and media sectors. Telecommunications providers are starting to offer broadcast services (IP TV) alongside traditional voice services. At the same time, content providers are offering communications services (voice over IP). Consumers are increasingly able to watch or listen to audiovisual content anytime, anywhere, and on a variety of technical platforms (TV, computer, mobile phone, personal digital assistant, etc.). The Commission must help private industry to take advantage of these new markets by providing a coherent regulatory framework for Europe's digital economy that encourages innovation, investment and competition. And we must focus our research spending on key information and communication technologies.

Q4 How do you envisage Europe gaining the economic and security benefits of RFID without seeing the negative impacts on citizen's privacy?

Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID), which will soon replace bar codes in your supermarket, offer tremendous opportunities for business and society. RFID tags are far cleverer than traditional bar codes. They are the precursors of a world in which billions of networked objects and sensors will report their location, identity, and history. These networks and devices will link everyday objects into an "internet of things" that will greatly enhance economic prosperity and the quality of life. But, as with any breakthrough, there is a possible downside - in this case, it is the power of RFIDs to report their location, identity and history, which raises serious concerns about personal privacy and security, as well as technical interoperability and international compatibility. To exploit the economic potential of RFID, privacy and consumer concerns associated with the use of RFID tags need to be handled constructively, with the assent of all stakeholders. We need to build a society-wide consensus on the future of RFID, and the need for credible safeguards. Furthermore, to enable RFID to deliver on its potential for growth and jobs, Europe needs to agree on common technical standards, to ensure RFID interoperability across borders, and also on a common radio spectrum band for RFIDs to use. To this end, the European Commission has just launched a wide public debate on the opportunities and challenges associated with RFID. This debate will rely on a series of workshops, to build consensus on: RFID applications, end-user issues, interoperability and standards, and frequency spectrum requirements. They will take place in Brussels between March and June 2006 and their conclusions will assist the European Commission in drafting a working document on RFID. This document will be published in September in an online consultation. Additional feedback obtained will then be analysed and integrated in a Commission Communication on RFID, to be adopted before the end of the year. This feedback could lead to amendments of the e-privacy-Directive which is up for review this year. The Communication will also address the need for other legislative measures for RFID, such as decisions on allocation of spectrum. The Commission is at the same time stepping up its exchanges with the USA and Asia on RFID technologies, in order to define globally-accepted interoperability standards and practices with regard to data privacy and ethical principles when applying the technology. Finally, the Commission is also planning to support, in the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, technology and innovative applications that bring us a step closer to the "Ambient Intelligent Society". Further info: Towards an RFID Policy for Europe

Q5 How would you like to see the opportunity for better health care and education, better quality of life, security and social inclusion offered by new ICT technology made as widely available as possible in the EU?

By 2010 European citizens and businesses should be able to use secure and convenient electronic identification to access to public services in their own or any other Member State. Today's incompatibility of public sector electronic identification and authentication systems is a barrier to using public services across borders - whether to access a public service in another country such as electronic health prescriptions, or pan-European services such as jobs portals. Electronic government is moving beyond online information to fully transactional, citizen-centric and personalised services that deliver the high value added that citizens expect. For its part, the European Commission will promote research and innovation in eGovernment, on user-centred design and user satisfaction, and support for deploying large-scale pilot projects in electronic identification and electronic public procurement. Furthermore, this spring the Commission will also present an eGovernment 2010 Action Plan which will look at the further challenges: ensuring social inclusion, making efficiency and effectiveness a reality, strengthening participation in democratic decision-making, delivering high impact applications, and putting key enablers in place.

Q6 ICT plays a crucial role in reaching the Lisbon goals i2010 in making Europe the most prosperous and competitive knowledge economy in the world. How successful have you been in committing member states to engage through national plans and contributing in delivering sustained growth and skilled jobs in Europe?

All EU Member States national reform programmes (NRPs) address ICT, and in some they play a prominent role. The main areas listed for action are e-government, broadband and digital literacy. Many NRPs refer to the EU i2010 framework, therefore recognising common objectives. ICT challenges are cited in many NRPs (most prominently by CY, EE, ES, FI, and PT). The main tools proposed for achieving NRP goals are legislation and public funding. Other levers, such as creating new institutional frameworks, co-operation networks among ICT players or promoting standardisation efforts, are also considered. NRPs most commonly address the issues of e-government, broadband and e-skills/e-literacy. Take-up by firms and households, implementation of the EU electronic communications rules and network security are addressed in round half the NRPs. Most do not address promotion of the ICT industry, except as insofar as the EU regulatory framework is concerned. Many NRPs present e-government as a way to cut red tape, reorganise public administration and improve its efficiency (CZ, DK, LT, LV, PL, SI, ES, IE, EE, PT, FR, SK, MT). Some Member States list facilitating companies' access to government services as a priority (NL, FI, FR, CY, EE, LV). Other measures listed include: communication with society; e- procurement; e-signature; e-health; and the introduction of innovative electronic means of identification. Broadband coverage and take-up issues are addressed in all NRPs. Competition is considered the primary driver of broadband roll-out. However, in the EU's less- developed areas, public support is used to accelerate deployment. Significant broadband programmes have been put forward in several NRPs (AT, IE, EE, FI, FR, HU, IT, LU, LT, PT, SI, ES). France for example aims to make broadband available to 80% of households in every municipality by 2007. Small municipalities will be equipped with at least two public internet access points. The main industrial areas will benefit from affordable high-speed offers (around 100 MBps). These aims are to be achieved through upgrades of the existing infrastructure by commercial operators, while local authorities may use national and structural funds to stimulate broadband roll-out in under-served areas. Deployment will be further stimulated by support for emerging broadband technologies. Many NRPs propose e-literacy and e-skills programmes to improve human capital (AT, BE, CY CZ, IT, LT, LU, SK, IE, EL, EE, ES, UK, FR, PT, PL). Plans in this area include introducing ICT knowledge into school curricula, providing on-line libraries and addressing the digital divide, in particular between better and less educated and between urban and rural residents.

For further information, you can visit Viviane Reding's website here: Viviane Reding, European Commissioner

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