The European Commission has just launched a consultation to look into the needs for Internet speed and quality beyond 2020. We need to make sure that our broadband policies are driven by a vision that takes into account all the different scenarios we may face in the next twenty years, says Anna Krzyżanowska, Head of Unit Broadband at DG CONNECT.
The Digital Post: What is the purpose of the consultation?
Anna Krzyżanowska: Just after the launch of the Digital Single Market strategy and five years before the broadbandtarget date we have realized that the most active families and SMEs using current applications and services may be needing more than 30 megabits per second.
At the same time several organizations, including public institutions such as schools, may need a connection of more than 100 megabytes per second in order to perform their online activities.
Hence, having reviewed the available literature and the projections on the increased use of Internet networks, we want to know what is the opinion of the general public regarding the connectivity needs they might have beyond 2020.
Let me also stress one more important element of reflection: at the moment in Europe there is a large availability of publicly supported funds, with the European structural funds alone providing six billion euros for broadband networks and the opportunity to unlock huge resources under the European Strategic Investment Fund.
We need to make sure that these investments are supported by decisions and by a vision that look beyond 2020 to the trends of the next ten or twenty years.
The Digital Post: In a word, the consultation will help shape the new European Digital Single Market after 2020.
Anna Krzyżanowska: Definitely. This consultation is part of an evidence building exercise which will orientate our decisions as to whether or not a new broadband policy should emerge within the context of the digital single market.
It’s not about what we want to build or what we’re building today, but whether that’s going to be enough to enable the considerable benefits that the digital single market can bring us.
This is the main question we are trying to answer through this consultation by focusing on those sectors that will be the main users and beneficiaries of the digital single market.
The Digital Post: What are the sectors whose demand for connectivity will jump in the following years?
Anna Krzyżanowska: We want to listen from people building applications or those currently developing band-hungry services, mainly game producers or media companies.
We will look at the needs that will be generated by cloud computing as well as by the expanding availability of shared software and shared platforms, which is of particular importance for the definition of the needed upload capacity of networks.
In addition to that, there are certain services that will require higher security or ubiquitous access. It is difficult to imagine for instance a ministry of education introducing electronic school books if it cannot do it across the territory.
A similar consideration applies for instance to health monitoring, which could bring enormous savings to the public sector by keeping people out of institutionalized health, i.e. out of hospitals.
We will also take inspiration from the research programs of the Commission focusing on future services: on health services or in the manufacturing sector. And we obviously will talk to automotive companies which are working on the connected car.
At the moment we’re doing fine but what will be the implications for the quality of networks when all of us in Europe will have a connected car?
The Digital Post: And from the point of view of the households what will be the main factors driving a higher demand?
Anna Krzyżanowska: Looking at the future, it is the cloud computing which will mostly drive the need for more connectivity, especially in terms of upload speed. As for the download, the same can be said for the consumption and exchange of video content.
However, it is also very difficult to define what a household is. In the case of somebody starting his own company and working from home the needs of a household turn into those of a small enterprise, and in that particular case the value of services or software sharing becomes extremely important.
In any case, it’s very unpredictable what our home connection will serve in 10 years time. That is why we need to make sure that our investment decisions may reflect the different scenarios we may face in the future.
The Digital Post: However, setting higher broadband targets might stir discontent among some telecoms stakeholders.
Anna Krzyżanowska: The reaction of different stakeholders may be quite predictable. There’s a general resistance in accepting that the world is going in a certain direction.
Hence, we are not starting with a proposal, but rather with a public consultation so as to allow everybody to voice their views and perhaps their reservations.
Having said that, I believe that we can find plenty of examples in which we have underestimated technological developments and the strain they have put on infrastructures.
This is all the more true for the digital networks: we are not only facing more people using these infrastructures but we also facing different ways of using them. Hence, whereas it may be not in the interest of some people to have that discussion, I believe that it is very important.
Big telecom companies often tell us that the demand would not materialize quickly enough. And I believe that in some cases they’re right: there are some countries or certain population categories that are more conservative than others and it’s very difficult to make a generalized statement.
However, I believe that speed or quality of connection is addictive and it is contagious so the more people have it the more people will ask for it and that will probably drive the dynamics of demand fairly quickly.
The Digital Post: What is the link between this consultation and the concomitant consultation on the review of the telecom framework?
Anna Krzyżanowska: Telecom review is a legal requirement of the legislation. On one hand it is written within the legislation that it needs to be periodically reviewed.
Second, the Commission has made a commitment to better regulation and we in general look whether the regulation proposed has fulfilled its objectives, whether it’s still effective efficient and effective and has the right impact.
From that perspective we would have done a review of the framework irrespectively of whether the market needs for connectivity change or not. But since we have an instinct that they are changing and they will be actually changing throughout the period of the review and beyond, it is obviously important to link the two processes.
Regulation is there for a reason and the reason is to make sure that the consumers get the connectivity that they want. From that perspective there’s no difference between the regulatory objective and the policy objective as it is explained in the digital agenda and as it is intended in the digital single market.
I believe it’s particularly good that policy reflection, regulatory fine-tuning or improvements and the availability of funds are actually happening at the same time.
Anna Krzyżanowska is the Head of Unit « Broadband » at DG CONNECT of the European Commission. In addition to policy activities focusing on achieving Digital Agenda for Europe broadband targets, she is coordinating the efforts related to Connecting Europe Facility and future Cohesion Framework in the areas relevant to DG CONNECT.