Even though ‘traditional’ public service TV and radio remain very popular, we want to consolidate the important role public service media has to play in the digital environment, says Nicola Frank, Head of European Affairs of the EBU. Here’s her opinion on the main legislative proposals of the Digital Single Market strategy.
The Digital Post: What are the priority issues for EBU on the EU digital policy agenda?
Nicola Frank: Digital Single Market policies are crucial because they will impact the way programmes are licensed, distributed and presented to viewers. We want to make sure that our content reaches citizens on all devices, which calls for licensing tools which are fit for the digital environment as well as rules ensuring that all relevant networks carry our programmes, and significant platforms and interfaces display our services prominently to users. This is very important for cultural diversity and media pluralism.
The way citizens access TV and radio programmes has evolved extremely fast in recent years. Even though ‘traditional’ public service TV and radio remain very popular – reaching 59% and 44% of Europeans respectively every week – we want to consolidate the important role public service media has to play in the digital environment. This is very much at the heart of EBU members’ strategies today.
As part of its digital strategy, the EU already made a very important step towards effective net neutrality. Now we need to build on this first important stepping stone with the recent proposals on the audiovisual media services directive, the telecoms review and the copyright proposals.
TDP: What are the challenges for broadcasters in the recent telecoms review?
NF: From our perspective, the Telecoms review will impact the way our programmes are distributed on the various electronic communication networks – Digital Terrestrial Television, satellite, cable and IPTV. There is an opportunity within this review to strengthen the tools Member States have at their disposal to ensure that public service media programmes can be accessed on all key networks and on various devices. For example, ‘must-carry rules’ should be updated to match the fact that there are more means to distribute programmes and more on offer today, in particular interactive and on-demand services.
TDP: The copyright proposal has been criticised by many in Brussels and you are one of the few being quite positive, why is this?
NF: Yes, the proposal for a Regulation on broadcasters’ online content has caused quite an interesting reaction. Having analysed the proposal, we believe the Commission’s plans represent a balanced licensing solution. Effective licensing mechanisms are essential because assembling and distributing programmes implies that public service media organizations navigate through complex negotiations to obtain all the necessary licenses.
The proposal confirms contractual freedom and is in line with territoriality, principles which are at the very heart of the content-funding model. It should however be possible, for example, for Europeans who reside outside their homeland to access programmes from back home when they go online. When broadcasters wish to make a programme available across borders, then there should be adequate licensing tools out there to turn this will into a reality.
TDP: As part of the copyright discussions, broadcasters regularly mention the Satellite and Cable Directive. Where does that fit in?
NF: The Satellite and Cable Directive of 1993 is an interesting model because it has unlocked access to broadcasters’ programmes across borders on satellite and cable networks. It introduced effective licensing mechanisms for satellite transmissions and retransmissions on cable networks, which have shown that territoriality can co-exist with the Internal Market. For example, the Italian public channel RAI 1 is available in 20 EU Member States via cable with the exception of certain premium content, and those of us living here in Brussels can watch Sherlock on the BBC on Belgian cable without any problem. Around 1500 free-to-air satellite channels without encryption are available across Europe.
TDP: How are public broadcasters impacted by the proposals to update the AVMS Directive published earlier this year? From your point of you, how could the proposal be improved?
NF: The AVMS Directive covers subjects which are of major importance for public service media: informed citizenship, the protection of minors from harmful content and the promotion of European and domestic programmes to name but a few. They represent fundamental objectives for European audiovisual media policies. But what has changed is how these objectives are met in the digital environment.
The audiovisual media services Directive should be updated to ensure that valuable content for society is prominently displayed and easily accessed where citizens go to get audiovisual programmes in today’s digital environment. We want our contribution to society to be effective in this rapidly-evolving audiovisual landscape: we offer impartial and diverse information, a gateway to European content – over 80% of our EBU members’ airtime – and safe, informative spaces for users, especially minors.
Facilitating access to our members’ programmes is all the more important because powerful and VOD and OTT providers’ impact on the individual viewers’ choice and consumption is growing steadily. The Audiovisual media services Directive needs to give Member States the possibility to address access and appropriate prominence of public service media programmes.
The role of video-sharing platforms and social media also needs to be examined. Obviously, you cannot regulate them like audiovisual media service providers who exercise editorial responsibility. But there needs to be a basic set of rules to protect minors and tackle hate speech because of the importance of these platforms in the digital environment, in particular for younger audiences.
Picture credits: Pierre Metivier
The way the telecoms industry is represented in Europe is still too weak and fragmented, says Proximus CEO Dominique Leroy in a conversation with The Digital Post on the sidelines of the iMinds annual conference. Her main suggestion for the revision of the telecom framework: more regulatory focus on services than technology.
The Digital Post: Let’s start from Internet of Things. Proximus is the first operator in Belgium, and one of the first in Europe, that launched a network for Internet of Things. What is it about?
Dominique Leroy: Historically, telecoms were always about connecting people. More and more in the future, they will also play a key role in connecting things. Against this background, what we did is not so much building a simple network, but setting up a whole end-to-end ecosystem to enable the Internet of Things. We are providing enterprises, consumers as well as developers an end-to-end system equipped with sensors and based on LoRa networks, a long-range and low-power type of networks that connects sensors without SIM cards.
The purpose is to get small packets of data from the sensors through the LoRa networks and store them in our data centers on a platform called MyThings, where we already provide data analytics. The idea is then to open the platform to developers so that they can develop new applications. There are certain domains where we would like to go all the way up to creating applications, mainly in the mobility field, where we think that we can really bring an added value through Internet of Things.
So as you see, the Internet of Things opens up a whole new ecosystem. It is more than a utility provided by telcos. We want to offer solutions, partnerships, we are opening up to other players and therefore we are creating innovation. We are also one of the first companies in the sector moving in this direction.
DL: That’s probably where telco operators have a real added value considering their knowhow: We already provide end-to-end security over our infrastructures, from your phone to the applications you use, all the way to our datacentres. This expertise is very important for tomorrow’s connectivity in cars, home automation and health. LoRa networks come already with a triple encryption key. They secure the sensor identification, the payload and the network. In general, when it comes to using certification, identification and authorization technologies I believe that is where we provide a lot of added value.
TDP: How do you see telecoms operators capitalizing on the Internet of Things in, say, five years from now?
DL: Data consumption today is driven mainly by millions of people connecting with each other. Data consumption will increase dramatically in the coming years as billions of connected devices go on-line. This new reality will create huge volumes of data traffic. IoT will thus become an important piece of the telcos ecosystems, leading to more investment in infrastructures, stimulating more innovation, value, and opportunities for new revenue streams and profit.
TDP: The European commission is working on new proposals to implement greater coordination at European level of radio-spectrum policies. Unfortunately, in the past similar legislative moves were met with strong scepticism from member states. Why this time should be different?
DL: I don’t think member states want to give to Europe their powers on spectrum policy. But they very much understand that if they want to develop a coherent European digital market, there needs to be some coordination. The repurposing of 700 MHz for Wireless Broadband Services should be done within a certain timeframe all over Europe, otherwise it wouldn’t work. If tomorrow we need much higher frequency bandwidth, for instance to be able to develop 5G and self-driving cars, some sort of European coordination is essential to get there.
Moreover, a more consistent policy all over Europe should be applied to the length of licenses. These actions are all feasible, and I think member states will in a way or another agree that’s the right path. However, what they won’t allow is that the EU decide on the prices for the spectrum. In any case, I think that we have an opportunity to have more coordination in terms of timing of the auctions and duration of spectrum licenses.
TDP: What should be the main priorities of the forthcoming proposal on the revision of the EU telecoms framework?
DL: We definitely need less regulation to be able to catch up with more competitive markets. In the last 20 years, Europe has been very effective in overseeing the liberalization of the industry securing a high level of competition. However, today if you look at the big players in the industry, either they come from America, or more and more from Asia. Regulation is certainly one of the root causes of not having strong European digital players.
So, let’s make sure that we deregulate as much as possible, and let competition drive investments and spur innovation. Levelling the playing field is also another important aspect. It is not acceptable anymore that telcos are subjected to obligations on, say, privacy, data usage, or interoperability that are not applying to players operating the same services. The problem today is that regulation is focusing too much on technology and not on services, which produce lot of inconsistencies between cable, telecom, OTT operators providing the same services. So my recipe could be summarized in three elements: less regulation, more level playing field, more regulatory focus on services than technology.
TDP: A word on the increasingly tough stance of Margrethe Vestager on Mergers & Acquisitions?
DL: I think we as an industry need to articulate better what we want, what are the risks of preventing telcos from growing in scale, and what is acceptable and what not. We are not very well-structured and every too often we shy away from speaking with one voice. That also explains why it is easier for regulators to take their own direction: we do not make enough efforts to be listened. We can blame regulators or politicians but I think we should also look at ourselves and see how we can be more united to defend our industry. The way we are represented in Europe is still too weak and fragmented.
Picture credits: Matt Brajlih
The legislation agreed in mid-December by Parliament and Council negotiators marks a crucial step forward in getting away with a calamitous patchwork of national laws on data protection. However, it contains a number of inconsistencies that could negatively affect Europe’s digital ambitions.
It took nearly 4 years of bitter negotiations for the EU to strike an agreement on a sweeping overhaul of its data protection rules. But it was worth it. The legislation agreed in mid-December by Parliament and Council negotiators marks a crucial step forward in getting away with Europe’s calamitous patchwork of national laws on data protection.
The previous EU rules dated back to 1995 and their varying interpretations by Member States have contributed to create significant regulatory uncertainty while hindering innovation in critical sectors of the economy.
However, the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is far from perfect. It still presents multiple critical aspects. For instance, it fails to create a level playing field for telecom operators.
Following its introduction, the electronic communications sector will be forced to abide by a twofold regulation, complying with both the new data protection legislation and the ePrivacy Directive.
If Europe is serious about supporting growth and innovation in its digital markets, this asymmetry should be addressed as soon as possible. Otherwise it will place yet another burden on a sector which has been hit hard in recent years by a slow economic recovery while being under pressure to invest more in digital networks in order to meet the EU broadband targets.
As many know, the on-going Internet evolution has been providing breeding grounds for several new telecom-like services (including OTT services) to grow.
The point is that, unlike traditional telecom providers, such services are not necessarily bound by the terms of the ePrivacy Directive, although they are functionally equivalent to one another.
As a consequence, different rules applying to equivalent services inevitably create unfair competition between telecom operators as well as legal uncertainty and general confusion among consumers.
In order for consumers to benefit from a consistent regulation, regardless of the service provider in question, a prompt revision of the ePrivacy Directive is thus required.
But the negative implications of the new regulation on data protection could be larger, stretching far beyond the telecoms sector.
DigitalEurope, the main association representing the digital technology industry in Europe, believes that the legislation fails to strike the proper balance between protecting citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and the ability for businesses in Europe to become more competitive.
The text agreed upon between the European Commission, European Parliament and the Council of Ministers contains a number of stringent obligations that could be very costly for IT businesses, undermining their ability to invest, innovate and create jobs.
European businesses, traditionally less equipped to meet these obligations, could be hit hard. And, of course, this is in stark contrast with Europe’s ambitions to create a generation of home-grown global leaders in the tech sector.
Another matter of concern is the so-called is the compromise reached on the so-called “one-stop-shop”, according to which tech companies operating in different countries will deal with only one data-protection authority, namely where their European headquarter is based.
As Member states managed to weaken this principle, as recently reported by Reuters, some obervers believe that this will create more legal confusion and litiges (for instance, to determine what is the concerned national authority). Again: the bill for the companies could be very expensive.
Following the political agreement reached in trilogue, the final text of the data protection regulation will be formally adopted by the European Parliament and Council in a few weeks. Maybe there is still room to fix its inconsistencies.
Photo credit: Martin Fisch
It would be wrong to assume that putting operators and Over-The-Top players under the same regulatory framework will provide the ultimate solution to the current imbalances. A true level playing field needs to be created on a fiscal level too, says Gérard Pogorel, Professor of Economics and Management at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications.
Digital Single Market strategy: Is the European Commission heading the right direction?
I believe yes, and I am very optimistic. The European Commission and the European Parliament seem very committed to opening new horizons. The priorities of the European Commission indicate that they consider the digital economy from a truly holistic perspective putting innovation, investment and growth at the forefront.
They show that Brussels is placing digital at the heart of the future European economy. Against this background, the main priority is to make the European Single Market attractive to investors.
We cannot talk about innovation or growth if the market is not attractive to investors. Telecoms and digital services regulation, as well as new legislation on data protection, are central elements of a consistent framework conducive to investment. I really think that it is with this in mind that the Commission is trying to re-organize things. This is very positive.
The Commission has signalled that it wants to create a level playing field in electronic communications by putting telcos and OTT under the same rules. Is it feasible?
It has to be done, the question is how. Any action should be considered from a global perspective. It would be wrong to take a purely defensive stance. It is important that the players that operate in Europe are put on the same level playing field, but it is even more important that they are encouraged to innovate and invest. They should all contribute financially. That is why a level playing field needs to be created on a fiscal level too. For the moment the fiscal situation in Europe is unbalanced.
We have, on the one hand, telecoms providers paying lots of taxes, say on radiospectrum. On the other hand, we have other players providing the same services, which pay far less taxes or no taxes at all. I believe that it would be wrong to think that putting these services under the same legal framework is the ultimate solution. Requiring OTT players to contribute to the universal service or the emergency number is not enough.
The important thing is that they contribute a fair share in terms of taxes and investments. That’s the main point. The playing field has not only to be leveled, it has also to be opened to innovation. We have to make sure the market is open to new entrants and innovators.
The European telecom sector is said to have an investment problem. What is your opinion?
The European telecoms sector is not attractive to investors for a series of reasons. The first reason is excessive fragmentation. Some people say that this is not important and that Europe can function with hundreds of operators. On the contrary, it is very important because size matters, for instance in terms of access to equipment or influence on the design of devices.
Big operators can enjoy a much more powerful position than small operators. That is why fragmentation is very detrimental to investment, and there should be some level of consolidation of the market. T he regulatory framework should be more oriented towards dynamic efficiency.
photo credits: Daniel Hansson
We need to change the paradigm and change the course. A European digital market has to be seen as an immense advantage rather than a threat.
As an active member of the Italian “Internet Bill of Rights” Commission, the Commission that is trying to codify and outline “rules and rights” of the Internet with the intention to make it more open and accessible, I figured out the real debate is not about “rules and rights” but investments in digital, innovation, and in a truly single digital market.
Having a look around on what’s going on in Europe, and not only in Italy, I’m deeply convinced the continent has completely lost the world leadership in mobile technology.
We Europeans created the Global System for Mobile Communications that became a global standard. Right now, unfortunately, we lost that competitiveness; most innovation in information and communications technology comes from the other side of the Atlantic.
And that’s why we don’t have such a vibrant capital market as in America, and at the same time, we don’t create the conditions for our startups to become great corporations.
We need to change the paradigm and change the course. A European digital market has to be seen as an immense advantage rather than a threat. We also don’t need barriers of any kind because such barriers have a habit of outliving their usefulness.
How can we let the next Google, Facebook or Amazon be European and not American? The recent Obama’s statements against Europe don’t help and we need to find our way.
In a continent where there’s an important digital divide between nations, where you can find 28 different data privacy and copyright laws, where U.S. companies are going to remove services in some countries because of their local laws, what are the solutions to bridge the gap and create growth and jobs with innovation?
I guess the only answer possible is going ahead with the Digital Agenda explained by the Digital Commissioner Gunther Oettinger. Everybody right now is focused on Net Neutrality and the openness of the Internet, but Europe’s Internet is already open.
If you want to take your business online today, you can. We must not follow the current US approach led by President Obama and FCC. The real point, as ever, is to create the conditions to stimulate investments and entrepreneurship. To create a digital single market with efficient, modern policies across the continent that remove the burdens of becoming the next Google, Facebook or Amazon.
Half of European productivity growth over the past fifteen years was already driven by information and communications technologies and this trend is likely to accelerate. The European Commission identified seven priorities on which the first is creating a “Single Digital Market”.
As Oettinger said in February at the Berlinale “I want Europe to understand the advantages of digitalization. In an age where consumers are spending most of their time online, we should work together to ensure that our creative potential and European diversity are preserved and are accessible for everyone”.
That said, Italy is doing its part and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pointed out we need to increase the digitalization of our country, beginning from the public administration, and the challenge is not against American telecoms or OTT but to create the right conditions to bring back Europe in the Olympus of the digital innovation.
This column was originally published on E!Sharp