Ingredients for ICT success in Italy

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Neelie Kroes Vice President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda Ingredients for ICT success in Italy Italian Digital Agenda Annual Forum

Investing in Information and Communications Technology pays off: ICT offers a bigger return than most other capital investment. No wonder it already represents half Europe’s productivity growth.

And everywhere you look, people are finding new opportunities online. People use the Internet to connect with distant friends and family, to build up skills or look for work. Businesses use e-Commerce to develop new products and services, and sell into new markets. Governments provide citizens with online services that are cheaper, faster, and more effective.

Beyond that, I see a future where ever more applications and innovations are electronic. By 2016, online channels could account for over 10% of retail spending; over 25%of advertising. More and more devices will be connected – from your car to your house. And there will be new services like e-Health, which mean better outcomes, less disruptive methods, provided at lower cost.

To deliver the economic boost we need now and in the future, we must invest in ICT. Financially and politically. Here are three ways in particular.

First, we need digital skills.

Remember that our young people face horrific unemployment. Well, here’s one sector where vacancies could soon outstrip supply: a talent shortage of around 700,000 ICT professionals by 2015. This is a huge opportunity for Italy – where the share of graduates studying computing is just a third of what it is in other big western European countries.

If we didn’t do that, and weren’t ready to meet tomorrow’s human capital needs, we would do a great disservice to our people and our economy.

And look at the other end of the skills spectrum, too. When so many things are best found online, you have to worry about the risk of a digital divide.

41% of Italian adults have never used the Internet. 41% of citizens missing out on all those online opportunities. That’s two to three times the levels seen in France, Germany or the UK. What will happen to them?

So I say: invest in getting every Italian Digital. Then every Italian can benefit from those economic and social chances. Governments can save billions of euros through wider use of cheaper, easier e-Government services. And businesses can access new markets.

Second, we need to invest in a digital single market with high-speed broadband for all.

The Single Market is indeed Europe’s crown jewel. And as Professor Monti himself put it, today we need it more than ever.

That includes the online world. If you’re selling a product or service online, it should be just as easy to market it to people in Rome, Rotterdam, or Riga. But too often a complex web of different national arrangements stands in the way: whether it’s rules on copyright, authorisation, payment, or whatever.

Such digital barriers shouldn’t exist in the single market: they make it harder for consumers to buy what they want; they strangle business innovation by decimating economies of scale.

And a digital single market also needs high-speed broadband for all. Because the services of the future – from online films to virtual operating theatres – will use significant bandwidth. With internet traffic already growing exponentially, and doubling every 2 to 3 years, the pipes are going to get full pretty quickly.

We can’t rely on decades-old infrastructure to solve this problem: we need new investment to remove those constraints and boost our economy.

And remember that here in Italy, fixed broadband coverage and penetration are both lagging behind. Broadband penetration is 10 percentage points behind French or German levels: that “broadband gap” is equivalent to missing out on 1 to 1½ % of GDP.

The third thing we need is to continue to invest in innovation. All the great benefits of ICT—new technologies enabling new tools and new techniques—have not come about by accident. But through research and innovation: the main drivers of future productivity and growth.

In future, we will need to continue that investment and continue that innovation. Here to read more.

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