Neelie Kroes: letting the Internet meet its potential

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Ladies and Gentlemen, meine Damen und Herren,

Thank you for inviting me to speak today at this important and timely conference. Important: because it is crucial to Europe’s future that the Internet continues to be a place of innovation, growth and access. Timely: because we are starting to see very close ahead of us the consequences if we don’t make the switch to IPv6.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the information society over recent years. Two developments have transformed our lives profoundly: the Internet, and the mobile phone. Both were hardly visible, almost unheard of, just 20 years ago: at best, niche gadgets used by a limited number. Both have now rocketed to near universal prominence, transforming how we access information, how we connect, how we transact. The Internet now has 2 billion users worldwide; while more Europeans have access to a mobile phone than to a landline.

This digital revolution will continue. Future possibilities are only limited by our imagination.

The EU’s Digital Agenda is the framework to ensure we can achieve this transition. It is at the centre of our economic strategy for Europe in the years and decades to come. Because, in these gloomy economic times, ICT is already a sector providing half of our productivity growth: it can shape the economy of the future.

And it also offers social applications: innovations that can directly improve the well-being of citizens everywhere. Whether it is healthcare, ageing, the environment, education, or creating inclusive and sustainable “smart cities”.

All such developments are crucial to Europe’s future prosperity.

How can we do this? Our strategy targets a number of areas, from building trust and security, to achieving a vibrant digital Single Market, to make better use of spectrum resources. And there is more.

But first and foremost, we need every European digital. That means not just every citizen with access to affordable broadband Internet connections. But also with the skills and awareness they need to enjoy ICT in their daily lives.

In many respects, Europe is doing well. Today, nearly two out of three Europeans are regular Internet users. But still, just over a quarter of Europeans have never used it. I want that number to decrease: because we cannot leave people on the wrong side of the digital divide, shut off from online opportunity.

We also need to get more Europeans onto fast and ultra-fast internet access. Currently only 1% of Europeans have a fast fibre-based Internet connection, compared to 12% in Japan and 15% in South Korea. By 2020, I want all Europeans to have access to Internet speeds of at least 30 megabits per second, with a full half of European households with subscriptions at 100 megabits per second or higher.

Our new “Connecting Europe Facility” will support broadband deployment in Europe. All together, in the period up until 2020, it could leverage between 50 and 100 billion euros of public and private investment, connecting tens of millions of households to broadband.

We also need to be alive to the new ways in which people access the Internet. One in three Europeans can now do so through their mobile phone. Increasingly, people are demanding access to content anywhere, any time, and on any device.

And we are confronting new applications of the Internet too: developments like the “Internet of Things”. That could mean a growing networking of sensors, appliances, and consumer devices also needing connections to the network.

More people online; more ways of getting online; more applications and devices online. All these developments put greater demands on our networks, and require ever higher performance from them.

The Internet cannot adjust to these developments, cannot continue to grow and function properly, without sufficient IP addresses.

At the time the Internet was created, a 32 bit address space, enabling 4 billion terminations, seemed like a lot. Or it certainly seemed like enough. But now the Internet has proved its worth, taken off like no-one could imagine in totally new directions. And 4 billion does not seem so many any more.

Imagine for a moment that no more IP addresses were available; imagine how that would cramp the development of this global resource. Well, if we don’t make the change to IPv6, you may not have to imagine for very long: in Europe, total depletion of IPv4 addresses is just around the corner. The solution is to have a larger address space, now. And that means IPv6!

Deploying this new protocol quickly is therefore very important. And indeed it’s a priority of our Digital Agenda for Europe.

I’ll admit that the introduction of a new Internet protocol can be challenging.

Towards the end of the nineties, many expected a faster uptake of IPv6. After all, the advantages were quite convincing even then. And in 2002, the EU Commission started promoting it. Here to read more.

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