Neelie Kroes: Building the digital Single Market

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These days, no political discussion can ignore the economy. Amid austerity, we must focus on growth and jobs.

Here’s one sector that delivers both: ICT.

They call it the virtual world – but the benefits are very real.

The European Internet economy is already growing faster than the Chinese; within a few years, it could be over 5% of GDP. Meanwhile the Internet creates 5 jobs for every 2 it displaces. And such is the demand for ICT skills, we could soon be short of 700,000 ICT professionals.

20 years from its birth, President Barroso rightly described the Single Market as the EU’s crown jewel. Now the digital sector, too, needs the Single Market payoff. The digital world should in theory make it easier to connect up Europe. And yet sometimes I see new digital barriers where, offline, we tore them down long ago.

Let’s get rid of those restrictions, and build a vibrant digital Single Market.

We’ve shown we can do this on our Roaming proposal. We’ve cut the outrageous charges that irritate and obstruct so many. And thank you all for your help on that deal. Now let’s find all the other digital barriers and bring them down too. To give our economy a boost – and bring new opportunities to all.

Let’s start with a single market for telecoms. Because we have still not completed the e-communications internal market. If we did, it could boost GDP by up to 110 billion euros a year: 200 euros in the pocket of every European.

How do we get our hands on that jackpot? One of the main obstacles is the lack of open EU standards: for broadband access products, managed IP access and end-to-end quality of service. Without those, many operators and content providers find it harder to get a uniform service offer across Europe; the result is inefficiencies and duplicated costs. This year we will engage with European standardisation bodies and the industry to find the best way to boost take-up.

Plus, I want to make it cheaper and easier to give every European access to fast broadband. Because broadband investment pays off: 10 percentage points more broadband penetration can mean 1 to 1.5% more GDP growth. While broadband-driven innovation could deliver 2 million jobs by 2020.

The market alone can’t always deliver here; particularly in more remote areas. I don’t want some cut off in “broadband blackspots”. With measures to boost confidence and cut costs, we could build the networks for a connected and competitive continent.

That’s where our Connecting Europe Facility comes in. If agreed, innovative financing could leverage and “crowd in” significant private sector finance. A big step towards getting every European digital. But this proposal really needs your active support.

And another aspect: we should make broadband projects cheaper and easier. There is a high potential to save costs and make efficiencies. Operators could profit much more from re-using existing infrastructure and from coordinated civil engineering across utilities; meanwhile permit processes should eat up less time and money. We could cut costs by up to 30%. That’s why the Spring European Council asked us to look at this issue; that’s why we launched a consultation two weeks ago.

Broadband networks aren’t enough though. We need fuel for the digital Single Market. So let’s harness the amazing potential for online innovation. Help our entrepreneurs generate vibrant content. And let the people of Europe benefit from those great ideas.

Europe’s web innovators are the key to our future growth.

The young face horrific unemployment – even those who are highly skilled for 21st-century jobs are finding it hard. Here’s a great way to provide some hope — and benefit from young people’s digital talents.

So we’re launching competitions to ensure recognition for web entrepreneurs at the highest levels. And a new partnership to give young start-ups access to resources, connections and expertise. We’ll be focusing on the Member States with the highest youth unemployment.

But to really help them create jobs, we should give entrepreneurs the right legal framework. One that means bright online ideas don’t get stuck in unprofitable national markets – but can easily be spread to hundreds of millions. By giving people the confidence to transact across the EU, we could make it easier to buy, sell and innovate – wherever you are. Here to read more.

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