Europe has the policy, programs, innovators and market to become a world leader in fostering space technologies for environmental and emergency purposes.
In the past two decades, European priorities for space have had a clear focus: not about a race to space, but about making what we do in space relevant to humans down on Earth. Last month, the world watched as Europe launched their latest satellite, Sentinel-5p, making the Copernicus program fully operational and collecting terabytes of data per day.
When coupled with the operational Galileo program — Europe’s position, navigation and timing constellation — Europe has realized its two-decade goal of an independent Earth observation program for the environment and security, turning the page to begin the golden age of European Earth observation.
The timing of this next chapter in Europe’s story in space is auspicious, with these large, strategic programs reaching their peak coincident with the growth of new commercial ventures. In 2017, more than 100 Earth observation satellites were launched in a single year, the first time this has ever happened.
Hundreds of satellites provide concrete social, scientific and economic benefits to billions of individuals. This is truly a global sensing revolution coming from the commercial space sector, with miniaturization and mass production of satellites complemented by the data computation and analytic ecosystem to build novel commercial products.
The European Commission is now setting its sights on realizing the greatest benefit that can come from these signals for society, from treaty verification to disaster response. With forward-leaning policies to make these data a global, public good, Europe is stimulating commercial uptake of these information feeds and creating a context aware application market.
Europe is an ideal geography for this to take root. According to the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies, there are over 450 European companies in the Earth observation sector generating over €900 million ($1.05 billion) per year in revenue (and this is before the Sentinel data was turned on.)
Of these, 63 percent are companies that have less than 10 employees and 96 percent are companies that have less than 50 employees. Small businesses are where jobs are stimulated, experimentation thrives and innovation emerges. To encourage a shift in opportunities for these companies to grow, Europe has set up the Copernicus Masters Challenge to allow for small businesses and entrepreneurs to showcase their prototypes and commercial products.
Furthermore, the European Space Agency, executing on behalf of the European Commission, has created the Data and Information Access Service initiative to encourage companies to create the platform necessary to process the core remote sensing data to make it easier for new entrants in remote sensing to build applications.
Additionally, the most recent solicitations are driving a shift toward procuring commercial services as opposed to setting specific, non-commercial requirements. This can lead to the development of a truly commercial ecosystem around both publicly and commercially available Earth information feeds from space.
Europe has the second largest space budget in the world (EU, ESA and member states combined), and with the speed of innovation we are seeing in commercial space, now is a new time for the public and private sectors to cooperate, support each other’s goals, and grow the economy.
The emerging commercial space sector plays a unique role in driving technological advancement by accepting more risk, creating novel space architectures and focusing on commercial services utilizing an end-to-end space-to-product development. Moreover, the commercial space sector is increasingly becoming an actor in international affairs, providing policy recommendations, access to top technology and services and products to supplement public resources.
The right conditions should be created not only for the growth of European companies, but also to attract foreign companies to establish themselves and scale up in Europe. This investment in a commercial market will help the region differentiate its global posture and reinvigorate its indigenous industrial base.
Europe has the policy, programs, innovators and market to become a world leader in fostering space technologies for environmental and emergency purposes. By understanding how it can shift some of its space portfolios to buy commercial, operational services, while focusing on further-out flagship scientific and exploration missions, the region will position itself as a leader in the commercial space market and kick off a golden age of European Earth observation.
This op-ed was originally published at spacenews.com
Picture credits: planet.com
How a law to reign in large platforms will end up costing large platforms least of all.
Policy making is, by nature, one step behind technology because it tends to focus on (and is lobbied by) today’s companies. When lawmakers, however, by virtue of universally applicable and EU-wide laws, try to come after a hand full of big players, society and smaller startups suffer. With the Copyright Directive, the EU risks shooting itself in the foot. Worse even, it is launching a torpedo at its own vision of becoming a startup continent. Here is the gist of it:
The proposal to filter online content fundamentally misses its aim. By targeting a few big video platforms, it will ultimately uplift and fence their market share. The scope of the proposal is flawed. While intending to govern only licensed content, it targets all types of content and all platforms regardless of licenses or copyright.
Filtering itself is technically ineffective and will cause more damage than good on the internet. Seemingly easy on text through hashing but disproportionately expensive for anything more complex or even impossible. The suggested filtering technology will raise the cost of launching a startup in Europe and drive talent away.
First-buried-then-leaked evidence suggest it will not solve the problem anyway. For all of us it will result in lower quality, less variety and content online, as the law favours those who delete content.
Let’s take this in turns. To start, the proposal aims to address a grievance by rightsholders, namely the fact that certain large platforms don’t pay as much as the content industry is wishing for. While it’s one thing whether we want laws in favour of individual industries, this proposal will actually not do anything to abate this discord.
Ironically, this proposal makes it even more likely that small platforms and innovative startups pick up the tab, as they don’t have the market power and legal teams to go through thousands of licensing agreements. To be clear: Startup founders fully respect creation and its remuneration. But this law is drafted in entire disregard of Europe’s startups and its citizens’ fundamental rights.
Besides fundamentally missing the target, the proposal is carpet bombing the entire digital world. Regardless of whether one uses licensed content or not, everyone will now have to enact a costly regulatory prescription. Content can range from images over text, audio visual content, objects to code.
While policy makers probably would have liked the idea of squeezing one online video platform into the business model of another, their proposal made startup founders across Europe worry about their future. Github, for example, is an open source code-sharing platform that helps developers to stay on top of trends.
It too, would be within the scope of this law. Another example are crowdfunding platforms that, by design, host content uploaded by users. Is this where copyright infringement happens? Again, the scope of this law overreaches its aim and creates more problem than solutions.
Content industries may be yelling about a problem but it is lawmakers’ duty to find a proportionate solution for everyone in our society. In this case, technology can’t offer what politics wants. Several examples underline this: Shapeways, a 3D printing marketplace, hosts more than 300,000 pieces of copyrightable content per month but processed fewer than 1,000 copyright notices in 2016. Which were based on the description, not products themselves and in most cases unsubstantiated.
Earlier examples of crowdfunding platforms, code-sharing platforms or e-commerce are no different. Because content recognition does not yet exist in an affordable and efficient way these startups can either break the law or break ties with Europe and move where common sense governs. Anyways, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
With audio files, a comparatively easily recognisable content, state of the art fingerprinting techniques resulted in error rates of 1-2%. Sounds acceptable? In comparison, spam filters for emails get dismissed as unsuitable with error rates of 0.1%. These cases illustrate: Filtering is ineffective with some types of content, and non-existent for others.
Even if filtering were to work properly across all formats, it would price many innovative ideas out of the European market. Studies have underlined this. Unlike an assessment by the European Commission suggested, filtering does not cost 900 Euro per month, but easily between 10.000 and 50.000. If the average initial funding of a startup was 150k, you can ask yourself whether you want to launch that company or just run your idea through a bad filter for three month.
Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform, hosted 366.622 projects since its inception. In 2015 it received copyright infringement notices targeting a mere 215 projects, only one third of which were valid complaints.
If article 13 of the proposed copyright directive became reality, the removal of 100 out of over 366.622 projects would easily cost 500.000€ annually. Why? Because some policy makers think a straightforward notice-and-takedown procedure is not enough. What was it again about proportionality in law?
When filtering is prescribed with complex and expensive rules, companies will be inclined to remove content rather than run the risk of getting sued. And who are platforms do decide if that video or drawing is a copyright infringement or parody, or maybe an entirely new work?
While so far a well founded notice triggers removal, in future the benefit of the doubt will be with an armada of copyright trolls chasing anyone hosting content. The result will be less variety and content available online. This ranges from creative content of any kind to critical thought Here is a proposal that will lead to less investment, less startups and less free speech. Right before half of the world’s population will be able to benefit from a free internet, the most developed continent will go partly dark.
There are a myriad of startups like Kickstarter and Shapeways or Github. And even more young and talented Europeans are planning the next generation of content platforms today.
The collateral damage of such out-of-touch legislation is not only a shot in the foot of Europe’s ambition to become a startup continent, but also a contribution to a generation of entrepreneurs seeking success elsewhere. Europe will be stuck with companies that are already big enough to comply or those who never want to be that big.
Startups are not one single industry but innovate across all sectors. They are the most mobile companies we’ve ever seen and are successful because they approach problems differently. Regulators are still catching up to this reality.
While there is no simple answer to copyright, building walls will have unintended effects while missing the actual aim. Exempting startups, as suggested before will not crack the nut because startups aren’t SMEs. What then?
Picture Credits: Frankieleon
EU leadership on 5G will depend on the ability of policy makers to think out-of-the-box, and beyond old debates. Instead, they should keep focusing on universal, technology neutral and future proof principles.
On 26th January, the industry and research committee (ITRE) of the European Parliament organised the first hearing on the future of electronic communications following the legislative proposals tabled by the European Commission in September last year.
Listening to the discussion it emerged clearly that the debate is increasingly heating up and that, at least when it comes to the future of pro-competitive access measures, two clear opposite camps are shaping up: on one side, consumers, alternative telecom operators and regulators (BEREC) that ask to maintain the pro-competitive framework that guaranteed high broadband performances and low prices in most EU countries for the last 15 years; and, on the other side, dominant telcos (ETNO and GSMA) and some financial institutions such as HSBC loudly advocating for a deregulatory agenda that would grant higher profits to few selected players and for their investors.
Connected to this policy fight there is a much more strategic ongoing battle, the one on the future of 5G and on the way to ensure EU leadership in the development of this emerging technology. How 5G will finally develop and what will actually deliver is not consensual yet.
A recent study recently published by the European Parliament precisely on this topic raises several concerns and affirms that established telcos are trying to steer current and future 5G policies towards a precise scenario, i.e. 5G as the new generation of mobile communications based on exclusive spectrum licenses (just like 3G and 4G). In this model/scenario only few players share the consumer market for faster and more reliable mobile communications.
But 5G could mean much more than this. The goal that Europe could set for itself is that 5G will finally enable full convergence between fixed and mobile data communication services. On top of this seamless connectivity any provider should be able to create and offer new services, that is the emergence of totally new and innovative platform.
In order to do this, it is essential that policy makers think out-of-the-box in an open manner and that, with this view, they refrain from defining rules today that could set development of 5G on an old path. Policy makers should keep focused on universal, technology neutral and future proof principles.
In this respect competition has played in the past and will play in the future as enabler of innovation and of investments. A pro-competitive framework in terms of access to spectrum resources combined with well-studied regime for spectrum sharing where possible will be crucial to give to Europe its much desired leadership in 5G.
Picture credit: Andrew J. Russell
The European Commission has recently launched an initiative on the Next Generation Internet, aiming at looking into the Internet of the future, its opportunities as well as challenges. Jesus Villasante from DG Connect explains what to expect from this initiative.
The Digital Post: What are the main goals of the initiative? What is it about?
Jesus Villasante: The Internet has become essential in many aspects of our daily life, for work, education and leisure. The future Internet will be even more pervasive, working with and through many different devices and sensors, and will present completely new functions and characteristics. We have launched the Next Generation Internet Initiative because we believe it is the right time to take a fresh look, with a broad and inclusive perspective, involving from the beginning the various stakeholders: from research, technical and business communities to citizens and civil society.
To help us establishing an initiative which has an impact on the evolution of the Internet, a number of preparatory measures have started:
– an open consultation where people can tell us what they expect from the Internet of the future, running until 9 January 2017
– in order to back up the consultation and provide additional information, we have created an open space for conversations, for additional information, background documents and other materials. This is also where we will launch additional discussions on those topics that raise most interest in the consultation, giving people the opportunity to provide more detailed contributions at a later stage.
– a call for support actions has just been launched in the Horizon 2020 research programme (objective ICT-41). The aim is to identify specific research topics and to create an ecosystem of relevant stakeholders.
TDP: What are the main concerns regarding the future of the Internet?
JV: The Internet becomes more and more important for people and for every economic or societal activity. It creates new business opportunities and new ways for social interaction, from the local to the global scale. Many Internet developments have surpassed any expectations in terms of benefits for citizens and economy. And yet, there are some reasons for concern about further progress. For example citizens lack of control on their own personal data or restrictions on Internet access because of geographical, economic or cultural reasons. These are areas that we need to work on and improve the current situation.
TDP: What are the further opportunities and benefits it could bring?
JV: The future Internet should overcome the shortcomings of today’s Internet. It should provide better services, allow for greater involvement and stimulate participation of people in areas such as public life and decision-making. Only if the future Internet is designed for humans it can meet its full potential for society and economy.
Just an example: today, many Europeans are still reluctant to do their financial transactions online. Fraud, data skimming or other security pitfalls make them hesitate. The Next Generation Internet Initiative should take a fresh look at this type of issues and offer new and reliable technological solutions. It should be designed for people, so that it can meet its full potential for society and economy and reflect the social and ethical values that we enjoy in our societies.
TDP: What is the right approach the EU should take to shape the developments of the Net and not being left behind?
JV: There are three crucial aspects:
First of all, the scope of the Next Generation Internet Initiative should be multi-disciplinary. This means we should address various technological questions and topics, ranging from interoperability to broadband. Also, we need to use more the various technological opportunities arising from advances in research fields such as network architectures, software-defined infrastructures and augmented reality.
Secondly, I think that whatever approach the EU takes, it needs to reflect the European social and ethical values: free, open and more interoperable, yet respecting privacy. Only when we are able to reflect these values on the Net, the future Internet can release its full potential and provide better services, more intelligence, greater involvement and participation.
Last but not least, we should get more people on board for this initiative. There are 615 million Internet users in Europe and many more worldwide which need to have a say in this. The shape of the Next Generation Internet Initiative is not decided behind closed doors, on the contrary: we want to reach out to the brilliant minds with excellent ideas. It is them and that community that can help us to move forward with this ambitious initiative. Of course the evolution of the Internet will be a global endeavour, but Europe shall make a decisive contribution for a better Internet.
Picture credits: Salvatore Vastano
Making sure that labour markets are fair and function properly today and tomorrow is at the heart of the debate that is taking place across Europe. To succeed in the transition towards a digitalised economy, we need to improve our skills systems.
The world of work is transforming. Across Europe, many fear that increasing automation and digitally-powered business models will destroy jobs and put workers in a race against machines.
I believe however that digitalisation, if steered correctly towards our principle of social fairness, can be a force for better quality work, unleashing higher productivity and helping to finance more and better social security. Data shows that most of our workplaces have improved.
Many jobs have become more interesting and engaging. And, the share of workers receiving paid training grew from 26% to 38% in 10 years. Of course, this is essential because during the same period, the share of workers who declare that they face complex tasks at work increased by a corresponding 50%.
These additional opportunities are real – however, new forms of work can also be linked to lower and less predictable incomes. And while young people may be quick to embrace new flexible forms, they too – like the generations that came before – share the aspiration to progress towards stable careers and incomes that enable them to lead independent lives. We need to be alert to the risk of fragmented and unfair practices.
An immediate risk is the gap between ‘great jobs’ and ‘lousy jobs’. Automation and digitisation are likely to accelerate such polarisation.
To address these divides, we need to make our labour markets places where workers and employers feel safe to take risks. We need to support smooth transitions on the labour market, whether from job to job, to self-employment or to further training.
To succeed in transitions, we need to improve our skills systems. The Commission has put forward in the New Skills Agenda a proposal for better skills intelligence – understanding skills bottlenecks and anticipating needs, including through stronger business-education partnerships. Education needs to be more responsive to labour market needs.
Moreover, the European Commission’s work on a “European Pillar of Social Rights” is an important contribution to addressing challenges of the digital economy by trying to anticipate and influence new trends.
Is the European social model fit for purpose for the 21st century? And how can we make the European social model future-proof? Making sure that labour markets are fair and function properly today and tomorrow is at the heart of this debate that is taking place across Europe until the end of the year and I look forward to the European Young Innovators Forum’s contributions before I launch proposals next year!
The article was initially published on www.unconvention.eu.
Picture credits: Jan
The proposed revision of the the audiovisual media services directive (AVMSD) is expected to be opposed by online service providers and kindred spirits. Here’s why.
As part of the digital single market strategy (which is just over a year old now), The European Commission published six proposals on 25 May. A keenly awaited file among these, is a revision of the audiovisual media services directive (AVMSD).
This is the legislation that governs national rules on all audiovisual media content. This is not just about television, it also includes online portals and on-demand services.
The AVMSD has taken various forms over the years whilst adapting to the ongoing changes to the technological environment. Since the initial adoption of the Television without Frontiers Directive back in the 1980s the idea has been to create a harmonised single market for audiovisual content whilst ensuring some key principles.
These include technological neutrality, freedom of reception and retransmission and flexibility for Member States to provide more detailed and stricter rules than specified in the AVMSD.
Market developments, notably the rise of the online world, made it necessary to revisit the rules and amend the framework. With the last revision, the Directive was renamed and extended to include not only the traditional television content but also non-linear services (such as “on-demand” and internet services) providing television-like audiovisual content. This would now include providers like Netflix.
The proposal adopted on 25 May by the Commission has proposed several controversial changes such as the rules of prominence, advertising time limits and protection of minors.
The changes to the scope indicate video-hosting portals, such as YouTube, will be included as it proposes adding the following:
– a definition for ‘video-sharing platform services’ to the scope
(Article 1 a bis in the draft),
– the wording ‘videos of short duration’ to what constitutes a programme
(Article 1 b in the draft),
– a definition of a video-sharing platform provider as a media service provider
(Article 1 d bis in the draft),
– a provision specific to video-sharing platforms.
This is something that has previously not happened due to editorial responsibility not being part of the remit. However, this proposal does seem to be in line with comments from the Juncker Commission about tackling the barriers between online and offline providers.
The EU is aiming to create a single, pan-European market encompassing all digital services and thus it is unsurprising that the rules for online services are to be reinforced.
For instance, the Commission proposes a common quota at EU level, taking account of the fact that many member states have already been implementing their own national quotas for European works. For instance, in Spain and Austria, there is an obligation to reserve 30% and 50% (respectively) of their “on-demand” services catalogues for European works.
In the current AVMSD, a 10% share of the content broadcast must be European works. According to the leaked document, this has now changed so linear (television) and non-linear services providers must ensure that 20 % of their catalogues are European works. A report by the Commission from 2010 demonstrated a high share of European works in catalogues across Europe. For instance, Denmark reported in 2009, 88.9% of its on-demand catalogues consisted of European works.
In addition, the proposal sees a provision where Member States will be able to impose financial contributions to “on-demand” services for local content – a sort of European content tax.
The providers will be required to contribute financially to the production of European works, including direct investment in content or contributions to national funds. What this means in practice remains to be seen.
However, it begs the question of whether this will be an alternative to offering a specific share of European works in catalogues. Will the documented approach by Czech Republic and Italy become the ‘get out of jail free card’ for some providers?
The proposed Directive also allows Member States to oblige “on-demand” service providers to target audiences in their territories, but established in another Member State, to make such financial contributions on the revenues made in the targeted Member State.
Albeit in this case, the provider would only be required to contribute if it was not subject to an equivalent contribution in the Member State it is established in. For example, if Netflix maintains its headquarters in the Netherlands but is not obliged by the Dutch government to offer a financial contribution for the production of European works, and at the same time also targets a Belgian audience, Belgium could potentially seek a fiscal contribution from Netflix.
Netflix and other internet services captured in the scope, fear this proposal will damage their business model. Many platforms and portals pride themselves on having algorithms which tailor content according to the consumer’s taste. If a company has to financially invest in the production of European works and make these readily available on its platform, a personalized service will no longer work.
Additional requirements which may cause a stir include:
– stricter rules on protection of minors for television and on-demand services and specifically measures for on-demand services to put in place age-verification tools such as encryption and PIN codes,
– a possible daily limit of advertising between the hours of 7.00 – 23.00 and Member States are recommended to develop co- and self- regulation codes with regard to advertising certain foods and drinks.
A clear focus from the Commission is the protection of vulnerable people, this can be seen by the provision in the draft which calls for stricter rules for programmes to ensure the physical, mental and moral development of minors is not impaired.
In addition, the Commission has reinforced the current provision to protect minors from unsuitable marketing communications of food high in fat, salt/sodium and sugars as well alcohol beverages.
This has in the past placed the onus on Member States to take measures, but with the continued emphasis on health and ensuring the safety of vulnerable groups, is the Commission setting up a framework to provide European rules?
Brussels should prepare to expect a stream of online service providers and kindred spirits to rally against this new proposal. Stormy audio-visual waves are ahead!
photo credits: Jonas Smith
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
European Commission’s plans to overhaul the telecoms rules across the bloc are most likely to encounter the hostility of a powerful, yet unsuspicious ‘lobby’: national regulators.
An opinion issued in mid-December by Berec, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, appears to anticipate a confrontation with Brussels.
The Commission has made a top priority to “break down national silos” in the sector’s regulation with the aim of building a genuine single market for telecoms.
Berec’s opinion is keen to stress that any such achievement “will always be the product of 28 competitive and well-regulated national markets”. While the executive president Jean-Claude Juncker recently proclaimed that he wants “to see pan-continental telecoms networks”, regulators respond that “physical networks are and will remain national.”
No need to be a telecom expert to guess that the two institutions may have diverging views. This is nothing new. Disagreements of this sort adumbrate a struggle of power that has been playing out for some time.
Telecom regulators stood firmly against several attempts by former digital commissioner Neelie Kroes to exert more control over their domestic decisions.
Now they fear that the upcoming reform might curtail their sway in national markets while increasing the Commission’s competences in what is meant to be a fresh shift of power.
Little wonder that Berec’s opinion appears to air scepticism at the idea championed by Brussels that the current rules governing the sector need a robust modernization as well as more harmonization.
By contrast, the organization is vocal in praising the existing legislation – although admitting improvements are required – precisely because it leaves regulators enough room for manoeuvre, namely the “ability to address the particularities of their national markets”.
Greater EU harmonisation should happen only where it makes sense, while preserving national differences, Berec argues. Thankfully, the Commission believes that a fair chunk of those differences are leading to overregulation or regulatory uncertainty that might hinder investment at a time Europe needs to accelerate the rollout of digital networks so as to compete with the rest of the world.
The mobile sector is a textbook case. Ensuring greater consistency in radio spectrum policies at EU level – a measure the Commission has announced to be part of the reform – will generate mobile network cost savings, as well as additional benefits associated with improved coverage, capacity and network performance, observers say unanimously.
And yet Berec does not appear to share this idea. To the contrary: It says that “top-down harmonization” might result “in inefficient use of” radio spectrum, “hampering rather than supporting innovation”.
The Commission is expected to unveil its proposal for the review of the EU’s regulatory framework for electronic communications as early as this spring.
These rules addressing the regulation of service provision, access, interconnection, users’ contractual rights and users’ privacy were last revised in 2007-2009. The reform constitutes one of the 16 strategic actions of the Digital Single Market strategy unveiled with great fanfare in May last year.
Berec’s opinions are not binding but must be taken in “utmost account” by the European Commission, according to the EU law, meaning they cannot be simply neglected, not least because telecoms regulators are often tasked with implementing the bloc’s rules.
It is worth noting that in the past years some regulators chose to ignore Brussels’ decisions or even the implementation of pieces of European legislation.
At the same time Berec voiced strong criticism at a bunch of key Commission’s proposals. For instance, it objected to a wide spectrum of measures put forward under the “Connected Continent” package, which was also designed to accelerate the building of a single telecom market.
That is why the European Commission should strengthen the dialogue with regulators before putting out the new legislation so as to minimize their influent opposition (in the past they lamented that they have been not consulted).
The fact is that further integration in the sector’s regulation is key for the future prosperity of the bloc and is a stepping stone towards a digital single market. Berec ought to come to terms with this basic truth even this means a loss of powers for the national regulators.
Photo credit: Jesse Loughborough
On Tuesday European Parliament will vote its position on the Digital Market Strategy (DSM). The raportuer for the text, MEP Kaja Kallas, explains what the legislative assembly is asking the Commission: i.e. more pro-innovation policies, more support to the sharing economy, less digital portectionism.
The Digital Post: What are the main requests laid out in the EP position on the DSM?
Kaja Kallas: The most important aspect of this report is its overarching strong support for innovation- friendly policies and its pro-innovation tone, especially with regard to online platforms. To point out some more specific paragraphs, I would emphasize the digital transformation plan and the big data review which aims to remove barriers to promote innovation in the data driven sector.
TDP: What are the actions, if any, stated in the DSM that the EP would like to be tweaked or on which it has some doubts?
KK: The EP report is sceptical of the Commission’s approach when it comes to platforms and is somewhat critical of the consultation which had leading questions in it. We are not sure if the outcome is the result of open questions or whether it is based on the ones that were a bit leading.
The EP’s report clarifies things that the DSM strategy does not. For example, it is clearly against consolidation in the telecoms sector. Also, the once only principle to be applied in public administration (so not just a pilot project) is brought in, and it goes beyond the strategy on things that we felt were necessary to cover in the report (sharing economy and the digital transformation of the industry for instance).
TDP: How the EP position is supporting sharing economy, as you have stated?
KK: The report shows strong support for the sharing economy and calls for the removal of artificial barriers which hinder its growth. This will enable us to reap the benefits of the digital market and create new opportunities for businesses, citizens, public bodies and consumers.
The report even states that employment laws should be updated to allow new flexible forms of employment to emerge.
TDP: What do you think of the approach of the Commission as regards online platforms?
KK: The consultation launched by the Commission seems to have been more focused on calming down the voices in some member states asking for protectionist measures against American companies.
There is nothing wrong with investigating whether there are problems, but the questions we pose should be open ended and aimed at really understanding the problems. This should not be about protectionism.
photo credit: Dan Mason
European Commission’s alleged plans to impose monitoring obligations (“duty of care”) on online platforms would undermine the Internet as a platform open to posting and sharing content, argues Jens-Henrik Jeppesen, Representative and Director for European Affairs at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).
The Digital Post: The European Commission’s consultation on the role of online platforms hints at expanding the liability of intermediaries as regards illegal content hosted online. What exactly the Commission has in mind?
Jens-Henrik Jeppesen: We do not know exactly what the Commission has in mind. In its various recent policy statements the Commission has only hinted at the prospect of changing the current rules.
This is the case, both in the Digital Single Market Communication from May 2015, the DSM Platforms Consultation that has just finished (see CDT response here) and in the 9 December Copyright Communication.
In the latter document, the Commission says that it will consider options for amending the IP Enforcement Directive. It also notes that the platforms consultation raises the option of ’take down and stay down’.
Effectively this can only mean introduction of a general monitoring obligation on intermediaries, which is not allowed under the E-Commerce Directive. We want to preserve this protection.
TDP: What might be the general implications of these obligations, were it introduced?
JHJ: As we explain in various of our statements and documents, a monitoring obligation if it were to be introduced, would require intermediaries of all kinds to police, screen and filter for content that might be argued by some to be illegal.
This could be anything from alleged hate speech, defamation, radicalising content, or copyright infringement. It is often a difficult, delicate and highly subjective evaluation to make.
It would undermine the Internet as we know it as a platform open to posting and sharing of blogs, comments, podcasts, pictures and all kinds of material because any hosting platform would have to first ensure that whatever is posted/shared cannot be judged to be illegal.
The incentives for intermediaries would be to be overly restrictive to avoid expensive legal challenges and lawsuits. The consequence would without a doubt be to severely restrict free expression and debate on the Internet.
It would also impose massive costs and risks on start up Internet companies – exactly the type of enterprise European politicians would like to see grow and scale.
TDP: How, then, to ensure “greater responsibility” from online intermediaries without resorting to new legal obligations?
JHJ: First of all, the current rules (the E-Commerce Directive) rightly shield intermediaries from liability – but only if they take action once notified about illegal content on their networks. So, an intermediary cannot simply ignore notification that illegal content has been published on their network or platform.
If it does not act on a notice, it will lose its liability protection. That is already a strong incentive for intermediaries to act swiftly when notified about illegal content. Further, most intermediaries enforce their own terms of service.
Most social networks give users the possibility to flag content and comments that they consider to be illegal or against terms of service (for example, racist or anti-Semitic comments).
The same applies to content that violates copyright. There are also various agreements to ‘follow-the-money’, i.e. make it difficult for websites that systematically offer pirated content on a commercial scale to operate.
There is for example an memorandum of understanding between trademark owners and online trading services to stop trading in counterfeit goods, illegal medicines and the like.
TDP: The Centre for Democracy and Technology has also voiced doubts regarding the way the Commission is using the notion of “online platforms”. Why?
JHJ: As we explain in our platforms consultation response, the platforms definition is so broad that it captures so many types of companies in different industries that it becomes meaningless.
Furthermore, these companies are already subject to consumer rules, competition rules, data protection law etc., no matter whether they operate wholly or partly or not at all online.
It is not clear that it makes sense to create a new category of company to which particular regulation applies. Technology and business models evolve rapidly, and laws should not be drafted for specific technologies or business models.
photo credits: James Lavin
In a few years e-skills would be considered “life skills” and digital competence will be a defining factor for professional accomplishment. So, why not investing in developing digital skills along with entrepreneurial skills from as early stage as primary school?
‘The web as I envisaged it – we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past’. These are the words of Tim Barners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web and the person ultimately responsible for all the cat pictures in your life.
It takes a remarkable lack of imagination not to realise that, where technology is concerned, the world we live in today is but a enticing preview of what’s to come in ten, twenty or fifty years’ time. Unlike past generations, who have had to sit in their analogue reality and fantasise about the unattainable and distant future of Star Wars, we have the opportunity to live technological advancement and breakthrough in real time – and to make the smart choice of embracing it before it is too late.
Given the urgent, relentless digitalisation of every aspects of our lives, it is not unreasonable to view e-skills and digital literacy as the defining competencies of tomorrow’s labour market. The Digital Age has and continues to alter the global business landscape beyond recognition – entrepreneurship now goes hand in hand with media and technological savvy, a process that’s likely to accelerate if anything, and any entrepreneur who wants to succeed in this new climate has to be able to adapt and change as they go along. The days of business as usual are well and truly over.
And what is entrepreneurship, in its broader sense, if not the ability to turn ideas into actions? It is not only the main driver of economic growth and job creation but, in the case of social entrepreneurship – of social cohesion and sustainability, boosting the economy while tackling societal issues on a regional, national or even worldwide scale. Digital technology is the single most powerful tool we have ever had at our disposal it is exciting to see a new generation of social
entrepreneurs use it in imaginative ways to, quite literally, change the world.
So why not invest in developing those vital digital and entrepreneurial skills as early as primary school? A new report by the Digital Skills Committee in the UK suggests that while embedding digital learning throughout the education system is a great long-term solution, “there is also a clear need to enhance digital capabilities in the shorter term.”
European leaders are slowly but surely coming to terms with the importance of ensuring the next generation of entrepreneurs are well-versed in ICT and able to fully employ the potential of the digital world to shape the world around them. By introducing its Digital Skills Policy and the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, the European Commission is aiming to support and encourage stakeholders to make better use of European funding to address the digital skills deficit.
Europe faces a number of serious challenges that are only to be overcome by an innovative, digitally savvy and entrepreneurial society; by people who, regardless of their profession or background, have the curiosity and drive to think in new ways, as well as the fortitude to stand up for and work towards what they believe is right. There is no single universal solution to the issues we are confronted with today, but having a shared vision and investing time, effort and resources in building a strong e-skills and entrepreneurial capacity in the next generation is a huge step in the right direction. Pictures of cats will always follow.
photo credit: Marc Biarnès
There is no argument that the legal framework protecting copyright needs an update for the information age. The new Commission’s proposal, which will be launched in the beginning of 2016, should strike a balance between the interests of service users, distributors and copyright holders, and make sure that Europe’s cultural landscape remain innovative while artists receive due compensation for their work.
Do you remember the time, not so long ago, when one would jab a pencil or a pen in, manually rewinding cassette tapes to save a little battery power? Or how some of us would spend hours compiling and copying mixtapes of our favourite songs to share with friends and loved ones?
Many among us don’t. They have grown up with the privilege of access to digital files, to music and news freely available on all of their devices, all of the time. They have no concept of the long path we’ve travelled to get where we are today.
Copying data is a simple process these days – it takes literally a few seconds. Roughly 130 000 video clips are being uploaded to YouTube any moment and online content is being generated by over 83 million users a day in the EU alone. And that’s with the so-called ‘app’ economy still firmly in its infancy.
It is a fundamentally different world to the one we know from 2001, when the EU Copyright Directive was first introduced. There is no argument that the legal framework protecting copyright needs an update for the information age, and this is exactly what the European Commission’s most recent proposal for a EU-wide digital single market strives to achieve.
The Commission’s proposal will be launched in the beginning of 2016 and it is the own-initiative report by German MEP Julia Reda (Green/EFA) that will be voted on during July’s plenary that is giving important insight of what the future of EU copyright might look like.
The forthcoming legislation should aim at three priorities. Firstly, it should strike a balance between the interests of service users, distributors and copyright holders.
Secondly, it should reflect the fact that in 2015 it is the ‘service user’ that plays the key role in shaping the digital single market.
Thirdly, we should not forget that it is through the creation of value that Europe’s cultural landscape continues to develop and diversify, and it is our duty to ensure it has the means and space to remain innovative, and that artists receive due reward and compensation for their work.
The rapid expansion of information technology now allows for easier, more cost-effective purchases of high-quality music as opposed to illegally downloading inferior pirated files. It is important for users to know what they are paying for and who benefits from the charges.
The European Commission should also play a part in the implementation of its ideas. It has devised several plans of action, one of which – ‘Follow the Money’ – employs a number of different strategies to identify and target pirate companies and the advertisers financing them.
Examples of good practice from the UK and France, where the government is working together with various businesses (including content and internet providers), will be taken on board and scaled up to combat the illegal distribution of intellectual property.
It has been established, for instance, that 90% of those looking for illegal downloads such as movies or music, use mainstream search engines. France is therefore working directly with those companies to find ways to limit access to pirated content and prioritise legal ways of acquiring the requested files.
And yet, progress waits for no (wo)man – the same generation that can still remember cassette tapes, CDs and mp3s, is now being courted into moving on to cloud and streaming services. Replacing local storage and, in fact, the very concept of ownership of digital media, with convenient access to data stored online, is growing increasingly popular.
Streaming companies such as Spotify (for music) or Netflix (for movies) are enjoying rapid growth and development thanks to this new environment.
Their increasingly globalised user base, however, now demands to be allowed to enjoy the service they have paid for regardless of their geographical location, especially within Europe. German football fans, for example, want to be able to watch games from the Bundesliga even when lounging by the pool in Bulgaria, and European legislature and companies’ own policies need to reflect that.
My suggestion would be to concentrate on our aims and on the challenges we face in the 21st Century. Europe has the potential to be a leader in the world’s digital makeover – we have some of the most well-educated specialists and relatively high-quality internet access. Disregarding copyright should not be allowed to jeopardise that – instead, intellectual property legislation should serve as a catalyst for innovative ideas.
Last week, we proved that it is possible to have a roaming-free Europe. I am convinced that we can also boost the potential of a digital Europe with a robust and balanced copyright protection.
That way, instead of spending hours rewinding cassette tapes with a pencil, we would soon be driving in automated cars, swaying to our favourite music in expertly-curated mixes.
Photo credits: Yassin Moustahfid
Much of what the Commission proposes goes in the right direction although some actions, such as plans to harmonize copyright, could stir controversy. Even US tech giants might be less worried than expected.
On May 6th, more quickly than expected, the European Commission released its much anticipated “Digital Single Market Strategy” (DSM).
The Juncker Commission has made the DSM the top priority of its five-year term, claiming €340 billion in potential economic gains, an exciting figure that should be supported by quantitative research analysis.
Much of what the Commission proposes in the 20-page document seems to go in the right direction, setting out three main areas to be addressed:
– Better access to digital goods and services. The Commission claims that delivery costs for physical goods impede e-commerce, pointing the finger to parcel delivery companies; that many sellers use unjustified geo-blocking to avoid serving customers outside their home market; that copyright needs to be modernized; and that VAT compliance for SMEs should be simplified.
– Creating the right conditions for digital networks and services to flourish by, encouraging investment in infrastructure; replacing national-level management of spectrum with greater coordination at EU level; looking into the behavior of online platforms, including consumer trust and the swift removal of illegal content and personal data management.
– Maximising the growth potential of our European Digital Economy by, encouraging manufacturing to become smarter; fostering standards for interoperability; making the most of cloud computing and of big data, said to be “the goose that laid the golden eggs”; fostering e-services, including those in the public sector; developing digital skills.
It is understandable that the Internet provides a channel for businesses to reach consumers more widely than traditional media, both in their own markets and abroad, and for consumers to have a wider choice and bargain-hunt more effectively.
In a truly single digital market there are opportunities to scale up that are not present in the much smaller national markets.
More controversial are the commission’s plans to harmonize copyright law, in particular its plan to ban “geo-blocking”, the practice of restricting access to online services based upon the user’s geographical location.
However, the most problematic point concerns “platforms”: the digital services, such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix and iTunes on which all sorts of other services can be built upon and which have come to dominate the internet.
Worried that the mainly American-owned platforms could abuse their market power, the Commission will launch by the end of this year an assessment of their role.
However the fact that most of the 32 internet platforms identified for assessment by the Commission are American and only one (Spotify) is European, hints more towards the fact that it is harder for new firms to scale up rapidly rather than abuse of market power.
What it is interesting is that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to consider a Digital Single Market a disadvantage for Facebook.
Instead, he supports the idea. Facebook has to deal with different laws in every country and a single set of regulation for the whole European continent would actually make things easier for Facebook.
The digital economy also depends on the availability of reliable, high-speed and affordable fixed and mobile broadband networks throughout Europe. There are no good reasons to still have national telecom laws in this field.
How will Europe successfully deploy 5G without enhanced coordination of spectrum assignments between Member States?
Let us not forget that these networks do not only have an economic value; they are increasingly important for public access to information, freedom of expression, media pluralism, cultural and linguistic diversity.
The following two pieces of legislation are related to the DSM:
– The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), replacing the 1998 Directive that generated the data protection regimes of 28 Member States, with a single one, was proposed by the Commission in 2012, has undergone amendments by both the EP and the Council of Ministers and could be adopted in 2015 or 2016.
– The Telecoms Regulation, reviewing the 2002 Telecoms Regulation to cover net neutrality and roaming fees, was proposed by the Commission in 2012, was amended by the EP and is currently with the Council, which has scaled back the EP’s amendments.
The upcoming negotiations on the Telecoms Single Market will give a hint of the challenges to come in creating a Digital Single Market over the next years.
Most Brussels’ insiders didn’t blink an eye when in mid-April draft copies of the upcoming Digital Single Market strategy began circulating among tech lobbyists eventually landing on the desk of a few reporters. Such leaks are commonplace in the “EU bubble”, even more so when it comes to digital-related legislative initiatives.
In fact, during the former European Commission’s term not a single bill drafted under the auspices of the then EU digital chief Neelie Kroes escaped the fate of being leaked weeks (and at times even months) before its official presentation. No wonder that the EU community abounds with stories of interns or civil servants who were punished after being caught “smuggling” internal documents out the Commission.
The DSM leak is thus hardly a surprise. But it calls into question the Commission ability or willingness to protect the confidentiality of its work. Worse: several of these leaks are said to be orchestrated on purpose by commissioners’ cabinets.
True, the impact of this practice should not be overestimated. Yet it highlights a clear deontological problem within the ranks of the Commission that should be addressed as soon as possible.
As widely reported by the press, the Internet of Things took center stage at this year’s CES event in Las Vegas. But it wasn’t just a matter of health trackers, connected cars or “smart” home appliances being showcased to the usual crowd of tech enthusiast. There was also a lot of talk about the implications of a coming world in which most everyday objects will be connected.
In fact, for all its touted benefits, the rise of IoT is expected to raise a number of legal questions and regulatory issues. This was the core message of a speech delivered by US Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez during the event itself.
While recognizing that the boom in connected devices has the potential to foster global economic growth and improve people’s lives, Ramirez voiced particular concern about security and privacy risks posed by the Internet of Things. Her words highlight FTC efforts in developing a fresh and more tailored response to the challenge.
So, how the European Union is faring in this respect? Well, let’s say that it’s time to do more.
The European Commission held a public consultation on IoT between April and July 2012 in view of presenting an ambitious “recommendation” (i.e. a non.binding by Spring 2013. At the same time, the conclusions of an EU Expert Group signalled that policy initiatives were required in as many areas as privacy, safety and security, ethics, interoperability, governance and standard.
Yet the recommendation has never come into being, and ever since IoT has all but disappeared from the EU institutions’ radar. To a certain extent some IoT issues have been addressed through a proposed “data protection” regulation and a cyber security directive.
However, a far more comprehensive approach is clearly needed and the new European Commission should start working on it as soon as possible. Even if it may be still considered in its infancy, IoT is growing at a rapid pace. According to Cisco, some 25 billion devices will be connected by 2015, and 50 billion by 2020. A stronger regulatory framework at EU level will not only ensure that consumers’ rights be kept safe, but will also enable the industry to evolve in a stable manner as legal uncertainty is bad for innovation too.