• Media

    Pravda

    What Facebook can learn from video games and press ethics

    Facebook newsroom should take a page from the accumulated experience in hundreds of years of press ethics, and a couple of decades of video games. Its first move should be to be transparent about its news algorithm and its priorities. The tech community [read more]
    byPer Strömbäck | 25/May/20167 min read
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    Facebook newsroom should take a page from the accumulated experience in hundreds of years of press ethics, and a couple of decades of video games. Its first move should be to be transparent about its news algorithm and its priorities.

    The tech community loves to make up laws to describe certain phenomena, such as Moore’s law which predicts growth in computer power and the perhaps more humoristic Godwin’s law which says that any online discussion long enough will end up with one comparing the other to Hitler.

    But in order to understand the digital world, probably the most important of these laws would be Metcalfe’s law.

    It says that the value of a network increases with the square of the number of members (or nodes), which by extension means that the price of staying outside the network increases with every new member.

    This can be good news, for auctions or advert listings it’s convenient to have it all in one place. The downside is of course that it spawns very powerful dominant niche players (cue Vestager vs Google).

    No business knows better how to game Metcalfe’s law than Facebook. With some 1,6 Billion users, the point where anyone realistically can opt-out has been passed long ago.

    Far from the naïve place of birthday greetings and flirty pokes it may have once been, Facebook today is more like an operating system for interaction far beyond the social life: marketers use it to build hype and businesses to interact with customers, but also dictators use it to spread propaganda and terrorist organisatons to distribute beheading videos.

    It cannot be easy to be Mark Zuckerberg: one day your service is believed to bring democracy to the Middle East through its sheer existence, the next you have to travel to Germany to make apologies for Nazi hate speech.

    If you’re a global service, you face the problem of different rules in different jurisdictions. So far, Silicon Valley has successfully played the “safe harbour” card, saying they can’t control what users post. (If all else fails, play the algorithm card – as in “we don’t really know what it does”!).

    This is not really saying “we take no responsibility” but rather a way to make their own rules. Convenient for businesses, problem is other people may disagree. And the deeper you get involved in a culture, the more difficult it gets to surf above the clouds.

    These trends come together as Facebook’s power over the news becomes more evident.

    Depending on what Facebook decides to show in its users’ feeds, it wields a lot of influence over the digital public sphere. The current debate about Facebook’s alleged anti-conservative bias hints at a much bigger issue.

    When we ask “how can we know if the gravitation toward anti-Trump stories is a result of user preference or algorithm settings?”, we’re really asking questions such as: What rules and principles apply to Facebook’s news feed algorithm? Who is the editor in charge? Does Facebook subscribe to normal press ethics such as verifying stories with more than one source and hearing both sides of an issue?

    Such basic things that are taught at every journalism school, developed over decades, centuries even, of free press. Systems of self-regulatory ethics bodies continuously evaluate and evolve these learnings, tweaking which publishing decisions are criticised and which are not.

    The details of the formal systems may vary from country to country, but the principles are the same and around them is a living conversation in the professional journalist community about when to publish a story and when not to, balancing the interests of privacy (for example of crime victims) and the public’s right to information.

    It is tempting to arrive at the conclusion that the internet users should be better advised and not share hoax stories and be sceptic of the sources, but that is the easy way out.

    If journalists with years of education and the ethics of the professional community to draw from find these decisions difficult enough to deserve seminars, ethics committees, even specialist magazines and radio shows, how could we ever expect the average social media user to take such a responsibility?

    The answer will always be that the organisation that delivers the news is responsible for the content. Mass distribution with no editorial responsibility is a recipe for disaster.

    In 2012 in Gothenburg, Sweden, teenagers’ use of social media for sexual bullying and hate speech spiralled out of control and led to beatings and even street fights in what became known as the “Instagram riots”.

    When The Pirate Bay posted autopsy photographs from a court case involving two children who had been murdered with a hammer, much to the horror of the Swedish public and not least the victims’ family, its spokesperson claimed the photographs were on public record and therefore could be distributed without limitation.

    With normal press ethics, neither of these events would have happened. Editors would have stopped them.

    When Wikileaks released diplomatic cables and military files, it exposed horrible abuse but also made public the names of local Western sympathisers, putting them at risk of vengeance from insurgents.

    Edward Snowden learned from this and wisely released his leaks through established news outlets. The recent Panama papers leak is an even better example of responsible journalism, where hundreds of journalists worked together on the material before anything was made public.

    But how can a service like Facebook use any of this?

    It’s their users who post and share the material after all, not Facebook itself. The algorithm aside, Facebook could also learn from video games.

    That’s right, many games offer both discussion forums, user generated content and in-game chat channels. As games companies try to keep a good atmosphere, avoid hate speech and sexism, as a game becomes popular it quickly becomes impossible for the game company to monitor all the content and understand all languages.

    Also the normal functions such as reporting abuse and blocking users are often not enough and can themselves be abused. Instead, many game companies give to selected users moderator privileges, delegating the editorial responsibilities to trusted players. (In fact, this is the same model Google applies to its trouble-shooting forums where users help other users.)

    The beauty is that it can scale infinitely, even with Billions of users. Facebook probably cannot simply copy that model, but it can use it for its newsroom service.

    In traditional media, pluralism is perhaps the most important vaccine against media bias. With plenty of different publications available, there is always another view available. It is no coincidence the Soviet regime preferred to have only one news publication: Pravda (“The Truth” in Russian).

    With the mechanics of Metcalfe’s law, pluralism online becomes a challenge.

    As Facebook benefits particularly from that phenomenon, it has an even greater responsibility to uphold pluralism on its platform. It could start by looking at what has worked for the press and for video games.

    But its first move should be to be transparent about its news algorithm and its priorities. After all, Facebook asks complete transparency of its users.

     

    Picture credits: forzadagro
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  • Digital Single Market

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    Brian Ager: Digital Single Market needs faster implementation

    The Digital Single Market strategy is a step in the right direction but the Commission must speed up its implementation, says Brian Ager, secretary-general of the European Roundtable of Industrialists. The Digital Post: What is your general opinion about [read more]
    byThe Digital Post | 20/May/20163 min read
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    The Digital Single Market strategy is a step in the right direction but the Commission must speed up its implementation, says Brian Ager, secretary-general of the European Roundtable of Industrialists.

    The Digital Post: What is your general opinion about the Digital Single Market Strategy?

    Brian Ager: We thought that it was an important first step to get everybody behind a common approach, and I believe it was a good move. I think it’s important to get an orientation, to get it out there and see what the reactions are.

    new logo-small

    TDP: Do you think this strategy is enough business-friendly? Can it provide a sufficient conducive investment climate that will help Europe catch up with other markets in the digital sector?

    BA: Only time will tell. To be fair, a few legislative proposals have been already presented. But for the rest, the Strategy is only a piece of paper that in itself is worthless: it’s what flows from that that will matter. It is now important that the Strategy is translated into a series of policy measures that are the right ones. Are they going to be implemented effectively? And are they going to be implemented in a coherent way across the whole of the Union? If you can tick those boxes, then you’re likely to see investment flow. But the Strategy in itself it doesn’t. Well, it is better to say that it will not automatically lead to investment.

    TDP: Do you think that the Strategy may lead to over-regulation?

    BA: I think it’s a possibility. But this must not happen, if we’re serious about digital economy, because if it does, then you strangle the digital potential of the whole continent. Another matter of concern is that the implementation is too slow.

    TDP: A number of observers from outside Europe pointed out that Europe is using a punitive approach towards US internet success stories or internet companies. Some are even talking about “digital protectionism”.

    BA: The Internet economy is global by definition: if you want to seize its opportunities you need to take a global approach for a global market. I can’t see how Europe could be protectionist, it wouldn’t work anyway.

    TDP: What do you think of the European Commission’s plan on Industry 4.0?

    BA: Our first reaction is that overall the plan is a good step in the right direction. But I can’t help but notice that it was presented almost one year since the digital single market strategy was unveiled. We need to speed up the entire process.

    BA

    TDP: Many fear that Industry 4.0 will be a huge job killer.

    BA: I don’t think it’s so much doom and gloom. We feel clearly it will lead to some job losses, but it should also lead to the creation of other jobs, because you’re switching the economy from one type of activity to another. To be sure, the development of Industry 4.0 will lead to a switch from more low-skilled jobs to more high-skilled jobs. This change brings us to another crucial point, that is the responsiveness of the education systems. An extra effort is needed to drive our students towards math, technology and science-related studies, including math, physics, engineering and computer science. Today the industry complains that it’s missing half a million ICT engineers, software engineers, even mainstream engineering. The problem can be addressed only if we start working from the basic education. As far as the exiting work employment is concerned, we need to think very hard about vocational training, lifelong learning, re-skilling, because things are going to come along faster and faster.

     

    This is part of a series of interviews held during the conference 
    "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by 
    the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium.
    The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger
    Juhan Lepassaar and Robert Madelin (EPSC). 
    Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, 
    trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for 
    business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.

     

     

    Picture credits: Matt

     

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  • Innovation

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    What is going on with Google, EU and Italy?

    With its Statement of Objections against Google on Android, the European Commission is rightly exercising its role as guardian of fair competition. Now it's time for Member states to put in place a coordinated effort at EU level on the taxation of big tec [read more]
    byMassimiliano Salini | 17/May/20163 min read
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    With its Statement of Objections against Google on Android, the European Commission is rightly exercising its role as guardian of fair competition. Now it’s time for Member states to put in place a coordinated effort at EU level on the taxation of big tech companies.

    “The European Union has the duty to ensure freedom of competition”, only by doing this we can “ensure the innovation that is necessary to the growth of our economy”.

    These words from EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager lay out a basic principle that the Union has a responsibility to protect.

    Fair competition and consumer protection translate into lower prices and greater choice for all EU citizens. In addition, they provide the basis for the creation of a single digital market in which European entrepreneurship can prosper.

    To give just two examples: the cost of phone calls in Europe has been reduced considerably compared to ten years ago; and families and business are now able to freely choose their electricity and gas supplier.

    On April 20, the EU published a Statement of Objections against Google in which it claimed that its “Internet search”, mobile operating system (Android) and app store management practices were contrary to European competition law.

    Commissioner Vestager accused the US giant of promoting its products at the expense of its competitors, forcing smartphone producers willing to install the Android operating system to also install Google’s apps.

    This despite the US company’s claim that “Android is an open-source operating system based on open innovation”.

    In the past, the Union has been a strong guardian of fair competition, as in the two cases involving Microsoft (condemned for the lack of free choice related to its web browser and abuse of dominant position) and Intel (sanctioned in 2014 due to its market monopoly in a model of popular processors).

    Given Google’s dominant position, it will be necessary to identify structural remedies, as happened in the past with telecom companies, Microsoft, and other players in similar conditions. We enjoy the results of these remedies every day, with these markets now fully competitive.

    The EU must ensure pluralism in the market so that it can establish a fair level of competition. Only if the rules are the same for everyone will it be possible to give birth to large technology companies.

    The new technologies field is particularly complex and delicate: its huge opportunities must be accompanied by major investments in research and technology.

    Google covers approximately 90% of the smartphone operating system’s market thanks to Android.

    Consequently, it can also dominate the app and online search markets (the two are crucial for advertising sales) as well as the market for videos thanks to Youtube.

    This massive presence means the Mountain View-based company holds the largest share of the online advertising market.

    Thinking about the incredible numbers that all this produces, we must also address the issue of the relation between large hi-tech companies and European tax agencies.

    We are awaiting a European tax regulation: in the meantime, individual States are moving in a random order.

    Google will pay the British treasury a £130 million bill in back taxes, a value that many analysts consider to be too low bearing in mind the amount owed since 2005. France has chosen a different path, seeking as much as €1.6 billion from Google in unpaid taxes.

    What about Italy? Amidst disputes between tax authorities and the judiciary, as well as agreements rejected by the company, the government’s position remains unclear.

     

     

    Picture credits: Wrote
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  • Digital Single Market

    conne 2

    Emma McClarkin: Aiming for a balanced approach to cross-border portability

    As the regulation on cross-border portability goes through the European Parliament, MEP Emma McClarkin explains why it is important that the new legislation strike a balance between the needs of market, consumers and the creative industry. How the Eu [read more]
    byThe Digital Post | 13/May/20165 min read
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    As the regulation on cross-border portability goes through the European Parliament, MEP Emma McClarkin explains why it is important that the new legislation strike a balance between the needs of market, consumers and the creative industry.

    How the European Parliament is expected to approach the legislation on cross-border portability?

     

    What are the main elements to shape a balanced legislation?

    What are the positions to emerge in the JURI and IMCO committee of the European Parliament?

    How the proposal should define the scope of cross-border utilisation?

    What is your opinion on the wider debate over the reform of the EU copyright framework?

     

     

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  • Digital Single Market

    JL

    Juhan Lepassaar: DSM Strategy, fears of over-regulation are unjustified

    The Digital Post spoke to Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Vice-President Ansip, about the latest progress of the Digital Single Market strategy.   The Digital Post: How is the implementation of the Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy progre [read more]
    byThe Digital Post | 11/May/20167 min read
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    The Digital Post spoke to Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Vice-President Ansip, about the latest progress of the Digital Single Market strategy.

     

    The Digital Post: How is the implementation of the Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy progressing?

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    Juhan Lepassaar: So far, we have adopted two key proposals on the harmonisation of digital contracts rules and on portability of digital content. In addition, in February the Commission presented legislation intended for greater coordination in the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services. Last month, we also published a package on Industry 4.0 and e-government, containing a number of non-legislative actions that will help create the right environment to boost the digitalisation of the European industry.

    During the month of May, we are going to unveil our e-commerce package, which will include actions to tackle unjustified geo-blocking and other forms of online discrimination practices. We will also present a proposal for the review of the audiovisual media services directive and a communication on the role of online platforms. Before the summer break, we plan to move forward with the public-private partnership on cyber security.

    Then, the next big things are the review of the European telecoms framework in September or early October and the next steps of the modernisation of EU copyright rules. Finally, in autumn we will act on the free flow of data, we will table proposals on VAT for digital products and on corporate enforcement rules.

    TDP: According to a number of observers some proposals would actually mean more regulation on tech industry at the expense of their capability to innovate and invest. Are these fears justified?

    JL: We believe that these fears are unjustified. We do not want to undermine the way the digital economy operates. Our proposals are balanced: they allow enough flexibility without adding more regulatory burdens. Take the example of digital platforms. The commission has concluded that it wouldn’t be judicious to have a horizontal regulation on platforms because they are way too diversified. Hence, we are opting for a problem-driven approach.

    That is, once a problem is identified and clearly defined, we might act through regulation or opting for self-regulation initiatives. We’ve already applied this approach on the issue of hate speech on digital platforms. That doesn’t mean that existing rules on certain areas like platform content, transparency or the issue of the so-called value gap will not be further clarified within the DSM initiatives.

    We aim to simplify the environment for tech industry in Europe. This is what we do by harmonising rules in different areas. For example, one clear set of rules for consumer protection in the EU, rather than a patchwork of 28 different national regimes, makes it easier for businesses to grow across borders. In the end, this is actually about less rules and better regulation.

    TDP:What are the key elements or the strategy to fix the EU-US digital divide?

    JL: First, reducing the regulatory fragmentation. That is the key issue that differentiates the European market from the US. Second: access to finance for our tech industry. We have set out an agenda, which will reduce fragmentation and bring down the barriers for businesses opening to them a market of 500 millions customers.

    TDP:Businesses in the United Kingdom and other countries are concerned about the cross-border tax system. How the Commission intends to modernise the VAT for digital products?

    JL: There is a difference if a business has to deal with 28 taxation authorities or only one. What we want to ensure is that, especially small and medium size businesses when they do business across the borders will only deal with their own tax authority and the rest is taken care of by tax authorities between member states. The commission in its digital single market strategy has already highlighted the fact that in the area of e-commerce we need a taxation threshold to protect the smallest businesses. We will act upon this with our proposals that are forthcoming in December.

    TDP: The upcoming revision of EU telecoms framework will revolve around the usual dilemma, more deregulation versus more competition. How do you strike that balance?

    juhan_lepassaar

    JL: That’s a good question. Telecoms operators are right when they say they face regulatory burdens that new players do not. It is our job to determine whether we can reduce the regulatory burden to all and whether there are still any areas where we need to make sure that all the players that provide same services also abide by the same rules. I think the answer is a bit of both approaches.

    TDP: What are the plans of the commission with respect to industry 4.0?

    JL: The plan that the Commission published last month includes issues like standardisation and interoperability as well as measures to boost Cloud Computing and Big Data technologies in Europe. The proposal is also designed to help digital public services to inter-connect with each other across borders so that businesses, if they want to do business across the borders, can do it easily without having to submit the same information to different public authorities.

    The plan also links up to the forthcoming initiatives on the free flow of data. It is also very important that the revision of the telecoms framework touch upon the issue of spectrum, which is a commodity increasingly needed by the industry for the internet of things or self-driving cars for example. All in all, Industry 4.0 relates to all DSM initiatives.

     

    This is the first of a series of interviews held during the conference 
    "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by 
    the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium.
    The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger and Robert Madelin (EPSC). 
    Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, 
    trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for 
    business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.

     

     

    Picture credits: Metropolitan Transportation Authority
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  • Digital Single Market

    Oettinger

    Günther Oettinger: Time to build a ‘gigabit’ Europe

    Commissioner for Digital Economy Günther Oettinger keynoted the "Digital Single Market: Bridging the gap" event organized on May 3rd by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. Here are 4 highlights from his speech you need to be aware of.   [read more]
    byThe Digital Post | 04/May/20165 min read
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    Commissioner for Digital Economy Günther Oettinger keynoted the “Digital Single Market: Bridging the gap” event organized on May 3rd by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. Here are 4 highlights from his speech you need to be aware of.

     

    Still lagging behind…

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    Europe has a number of competences and success stories in the tech sector, but it is still lagging far behind. Take creative online platforms, applications, social networks, new services: Almost nothing of these comes from Europe. The continent is not really in a good shape. We have to reverse this situation.

     

    Digital Single Market now

    Since decades we have created a common European market in a wide spectrum of sectors, giving a clear advantage to our industries in the context of the biggest market in world. There is no argument whatsoever against enlarging the benefits of the common market to the digital sector. Such benefits are expected to be much bigger if one looks to the markets of Europe’s associated partners such as Ukraine or Turkey. Fixing the regulatory fragmentation is the key issue: we do not need 28 national silos. In this respect, the general data protection regulation adopted a few months ago is the example to be followed.

     

    A gigabyte society

    The Digital Single Market cannot come reality without adequate infrastructures. Europe must aim for a gigabyte society if it does not want to fail. In order to make the most of booming sectors such as development of Internet of Things, machine-to-machine, or e–health, Europe cannot keep leveraging on 30 Mbps or 100 Mbps forever. It should start thinking of networks capable of reaching speeds of 500mbps or higher.

     

    Digital divide(s)3907205501_e2a058e57f

    Europe is still grappling with two types of digital divide. The first concerns the connectivity gap between rural and metropolitan areas, which in turn requires more comprehensive investment strategies in digital infrastructures. The second lies between European citizens with digital skills and those who lack technological education. Member states should give more priority to the digital education of their citizens: the European Commission will step up its efforts to help them set up related policies on digital skills.

     

    Beside Mr Oettinger, the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" 
    featured keynote speeches from Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Andrus Ansip, 
    and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, 
    parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future 
    challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.

     

    Picture credits: Sergiu Bacioiu
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  • Digital Single Market

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    Catherine Bearder: Why tax deals harm our digital economy (and its businesses)

    If governments resort to brokering individual tax deals, such as the recent UK's tax deal with Google, we end up with a race to the bottom that ultimately would be damaging our digital economy, says Lib-Dem MEP Catherine Bearder. Brexit? Complete econom [read more]
    byThe Digital Post | 02/May/20163 min read
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    If governments resort to brokering individual tax deals, such as the recent UK’s tax deal with Google, we end up with a race to the bottom that ultimately would be damaging our digital economy, says Lib-Dem MEP Catherine Bearder. Brexit? Complete economic lunacy.

    What is the added value to the Digital Single Market that the UK might bring if it stays in the EU?

    CBThere are huge opportunities around the corner to be unleashed through the creation of the EU’s digital single market.

    The UK is a world leader in e-commerce, so making it easier for businesses to sell goods and services online across the single market will bring massive benefits to our economy and to British consumers. Leaving the EU now just as we are on the cusp of this digital revolution in Europe would be complete economic lunacy.

     

    What is your opinion about the recent UK’s tax deal with Google?

    The UK Chancellor could and should have got a better deal for the UK taxpayer. It is not acceptable that there is one rule for large multinational companies and another for the small businesses paying their taxes and struggling to get by.

    Companies like Google make an important contribution to jobs and the economy, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to get away with failing to pay their fair share in tax.

    Broadly speaking, what sort of measures should the EU undertake to ensure that multinationals such as Google pay a fair share of tax in each country in which they operate?

    The recent EU agreement to introduce greater transparency over tax deals is an important step forward. But what the history of tax deals in Europe shows us that we need a more coordinated approach to ensure accompanies pay their fair share.

    If governments resort to brokering individual tax deals, we end up with a race to the bottom. The most important underlying principle should be that tax is paid where the actual economic activity takes place.

    This can be a real challenge in the digital sector, but it is one we must overcome if we are to create a level-playing field and a thriving and fair economy.

     
    Picture credits: James Petts
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  • Telecoms

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    EU and the 700 MHz: Open up that band now

    If we do not open up this band in Europe as soon as possible we will not be able to get the benefits from 5G. Europe lagged and lag behind regarding 4G but took the lead of 3G. Now we need to take back the lead. One of the most usual and most misused [read more]
    byGunnar Hökmark | 20/Apr/20165 min read
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    If we do not open up this band in Europe as soon as possible we will not be able to get the benefits from 5G. Europe lagged and lag behind regarding 4G but took the lead of 3G. Now we need to take back the lead.

    One of the most usual and most misused phrasings is that we are living in changing times. Times are always changing. New technologies, new products, new services, new threats and new achievements. The really big change would be if the change stopped.
     
    Sometimes changing times is used in a way to create fascination towards the development, making us believe that now we need to do something that is so extraordinary that we need to think at least twice instead of acting now, or instead of letting the society as such adopt to the change.
     
    But for our decision taking it is better to say that the change has already taken place. Now it is only a matter of if we want to catch up with it. This is very much the reality of the digital economy and the digital agenda. The changes has already taken place and now it is up to us if we are to adopt to them in a way that they will serve us, give us a competitive lead and global leaders. The reality is here, we don’t need to think about the changes as magic or mysterious future developments.
     
    Regarding telecom and digitalisation, it is already here. We do not only have a digital sector and a digital economy. Our societies and economies are based on the digital technologies and services that have emerged for decades.
     
    3G was modernisation of telecom. 4G was creating digital services out of telecom. 5G is the full modernisation, industrialisation and transformation of economies and societies in the world. And it is not futuristic. It is happening now in the timeline that is relevant for us.
     
    In 2017 Verizon tells us they will be the first in the world. It might be more of 4,5 G but still. South Korea plans to roll it out as early as 2017 as well, with full availability 2020.
    In China they will have 500 million users of 4G by the end of this year and their plans for 5G is following the pattern of the others. In Stockholm and in Tallinn we will se early launches aiming for full scale 2020. It is not more fare away than it is happening now and it will transform economies.
     
    We lagged and lag behind regarding 4G but took the lead of 3G. That’s why we got the global champions in the telecom sector and the Americans in the next phase in the digital sector. Now we need to take back the lead.
     
    This is what the discussion on the 700MHz band is about. If we do not open up this band in Europe as soon as possible we will not be able to get the benefits from 5G regarding automotive industry, road and traffic management, manufacturing industries, energy and power sector, agriculture or health care. We need the coverage and the reach of the 700 MHz band if we are to be successful with 5G in these and other areas. That’s the decision we need to take. If we want to take the lead. That should be an easy decision.

     

    Picture credit: phys.org
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  • Innovation

    DE1

    Helping Europe to master digital

    The European Commission's strategy for “digitizing” industry that was unveiled today is a good step in the right direction. The digital industry will play its part but we need a business and policy environment that maximises our chances to take advant [read more]
    byJohn Higgins | 19/Apr/20166 min read
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    The European Commission’s strategy for “digitizing” industry that was unveiled today is a good step in the right direction. The digital industry will play its part but we need a business and policy environment that maximises our chances to take advantage of this opportunity.

    In the build-up to last May’s unveiling of the Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy DIGITALEUROPE urged the European Commission to focus its efforts on preparing Europe’s economy for the digital transformation. This week’s package of initiatives does just that.

    We are getting to the meat of the DSM, and not a minute too soon. Last month at our Masters of Digital event the final panel discussion involved speakers from agriculture, auto manufacturing and financial services, talking about how digital technology is already redefining their industries.

    Just three years ago discussions about how drones and automated tractors can improve farmers’ efficiency, how 3D-printed car parts can help build cars tailored to local market conditions, or how a phone could replace a bank card would have sounded like science fiction. It involves science but it’s not fiction.

    These are a few examples of how the digital transformation is already underway.

    The technology package of initiatives unveiled today correctly identifies some of the core elements of the digital transformation.

    And contrary to what some feared, it isn’t a rush to regulate. Instead, there are some pragmatic suggestions how Europe should make better use of the technologies on offer. Innovation in the areas of high-performance computing and cloud needs to be encouraged in an inclusive way.

    The proposed “innovation hubs” are an excellent idea. To be truly effective they will need to be embraced by Europe’s business community. We’ve seen really great examples of this in some of Europe’s leading cities.

    The focus on developing digital skills is also to be welcomed. It is important to ramp up efforts to ensure Europe has the digital skills we need to make the most of the digital opportunities. I would add that policy makers and educators themselves need training to appreciate the impact of new technologies.

    The inclusive approach seen in the cloud initiative is also evident in the approach to ICT standardisation laid out by the Commission, with its emphasis on collaboration between public and private sectors. We have a unique opportunity to master digital for the benefit of all Europeans.

    The digital industry will play its part but we need a business and policy environment that maximises our chances to take advantage of this opportunity. This week’s announcements by the Commission are a good step in the right direction.

    DIGITALEUROPE wants two things for Europe; first, for us to get the best from digital – to have strong productive economies, efficient public services and citizens enjoying digital technologies as part of their daily lives.

    And second we want Europe to be a great place for the digital sector – including DIGITALEUROPE’s members – to thrive and grow. Put simply – ours is a vision of a Europe that has mastered digital.

    We see around us everyday the great promise that digital technology offers. We watch the transformation of great European businesses. We hear about new tech, and tech-driven businesses growing and thriving, and we see the increasing attractiveness of many European cities and regions to investors.

    But are we doing enough to harness the potential of digital technologies?

    DIGITALEUROPE measures the DSM elements against a set of principles we think are pre-requisites to achieving our vision – the masters of digital vision. They include the following:

    – Does the initiative take us towards a single market fit for the digital age? Does it break down national silos?

    – Will it encourage innovation and entrepreneurship?

    – Is the initiative simply shielding the status quo from change? For example, by protecting an incumbent industry or national icon, or trying to protect jobs threatened by technological progress or just new fair competition?

    – Are new rules really needed or could existing rules be used more effectively? And if they are needed have the policymakers designed them in the least burdensome, and most straightforward way possible?

    – Does the initiative recognise the global nature of digital? If so will it encourage European companies and citizens to want access to products, services and customers from around the globe? And will it allow European businesses to take advantage of a global approach to standards?

    – Finally, and most important of all, will the DSM encourage economic growth and the creation of good quality European jobs?

    This week’s announcements appear to uphold these principles. The emphasis on collaboration with industry that runs through all the separate elements of the technology package bodes well for Europe’s on-going digital transformation, and its ability to boost growth and create jobs in the digital age.

     

    Picture credits: Lukas Budimaier
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  • Telecoms

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    Ofcom’s Version

    Joe Smithies, spokesperson for the UK telecoms regulator, defends the recent reform of Openreach, illustrates UK priorities for the review of the EU telecoms framework, suggests caution on bringing in more harmonisation in radio-spectrum policies. The Di [read more]
    byThe Digital Post | 15/Apr/20165 min read
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    Joe Smithies, spokesperson for the UK telecoms regulator, defends the recent reform of Openreach, illustrates UK priorities for the review of the EU telecoms framework, suggests caution on bringing in more harmonisation in radio-spectrum policies.

    The Digital Post: BT competitors lamented that in its long awaited Strategic Review of Digital Communications, Ofcom did not go far enough in regulating Openreach. How do you respond to this criticism?

    Joe Smithies: We made a clear decision to reform Openreach’s governance and strengthen its independence from BT. We want Openreach to a more independent say on its budgets, investment and strategy. We also want Openreach to consult with all its customers, not just BT, about how it develops and invests in its network.

    These decisions are important not only for BT, but for the wider industry. Now we are working on the best way to bring that about, and we will set out detailed plans later this year.

    The Digital Post: How does the review ensure that Openreach improves its record in repairs and invests more in infrastructures, i.e. two of the main criticisms it has been collecting over the years?

    JS: Currently BT Openreach is obliged to deliver a range of minimum standards. The majority of people encountering a fault must see it repaired within two working days, and the vast majority of those requiring a new line must receive an appointment within 12 working days.

    We plan to set out detailed proposals about more demanding minimum standards for Openreach in the autumn.

    On investment, we want Openreach to consult with all its customers, not just BT, about how it invests in the network. But more widely, we will encourage investment from other operators by requiring BT to open up its physical network, allowing rivals to lay their own fibre connections. That can create more rivals networks to Openreach, and in turn incentivise BT to invest.

    The Digital Post: What should be the main priorities to be addressed under the upcoming review of the EU Telecom Framework?

    JS: Concerns have been raised that the framework may not be sufficiently flexible to allow for the regulation of markets where there is a limited or shrinking number of players – in other words, an emerging ‘oligopoly’.

    The framework allows regulators to take action to address damaging market features that could harm consumers, before that harm materialises. So it offers greater flexibility than, for example, remedies imposed during a merger.

    But we feel the framework sets too high a bar for regulating cases where no one company has market power, but the market is still highly concentrated. To address any concerns, the framework requires regulators to show that the market structure is likely to result in a degree of coordination between operators. This may require demonstrating ‘tacit collusion’, which by definition is hard to prove.

    BEREC, the European body of telecoms regulators, raised this issue in detail last year. We’re pleased that the European Commission is also considering the issue as part of the framework review. We hope to see changes that mean regulators have the full range of tools to respond to a changing market.

    Any new powers would need to be applied proportionately, and with care. Checks and balances should be built into the system to ensure that happens. But with a change in the framework we could do more to encourage new operators into the market, and keep prices low.

    The Digital Post: The framework review will also put forward proposals to promote better coordination in spectrum at EU level. What is your view?

    JS: Spectrum is a finite resource, so coordination is important for using it effectively. Generally speaking, any form of harmonisation should be justifiable, proportionate and deliver tangible benefits. It should equally respect national sovereignty.

    The UK works productively with the EU on spectrum matters, and we believe that the current system works well.

    Picture credits: Kainet
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