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“Broadband for all”: Kroes issues wake-up call to European governments

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission

Future generations will “curse the missed opportunity” if the European broadband sector does not successfully negotiate the “tough political and investment decisions” that stand in its path, according to Neelie Kroes, vice president for the digital agenda at the European Commission. Kroes was speaking in the keynote session on Tuesday morning, and warned that Europe is “slipping behind” in productivity growth.

Fast broadband is essential to the growth of the cloud sector—something close to Kroes’ heart—as well as other emerging areas including e-government, telehealth, connected vehicles and smart cities.

“We cannot condemn people to a Europe of old, unreliable networks,” she said, urging national regulators to work harder to provide additional spectrum for advanced wireless broadband services: “Too few Europeans can enjoy LTE and national governments need to change that as a matter of urgency.”

If they don’t, she said, “manufacturers will ignore our continent’s needs”. This may well have been a reference to Apple, which opted not to support the main European LTE bands with the launch of the iPhone 5, restricting the device’s LTE capabilities to operators with 1800MHz spectrum.

Kroes made much of the role of member states’ governments in encouraging and promoting the development of fast broadband, both mobile and fixed. Private sector funding alone will not be enough to keep Europe competitive, she said. For companies looking at investment in new broadband infrastructure in Europe today, “the risk is too great and confidence too week.”

Pointing to “massive investment” in broadband infrastructure in markets like China, where 35 million fiber connections have been deployed in 2012, and the US, where high speed broadband passes 80 per cent of homes, Kroes warned of the dangers to Europe in falling behind.

International businesses will want to base themselves in markets with the best infrastructure, Kroes added, and Europe should not become complacent about its attractions. “It is easy to say that innovation will continue indefinitely, but will it? Europe’s competitive position is not carved in stone. We have talent, innovation and resource, but we need to create a digital single market,” she said.

In Europe only one million homes have fast symmetric broadband, Kroes went on, which is penetration of less than half a per cent. “We need fast broadband for all, and it is time for national decision makers to wake up to that.”

Governments should look to the potential benefits of broadband, she added. The European population is ageing, with one third of adults now over 65. Investment in the kind of broadband that could help enable great advances in telehealth could save significant sums in the cost of future healthcare services, she suggested. – telecoms industry news, analysis and opinion

GSMA’s Bouverot sends operator-backed open letter to Kroes calling for European reform

Anne Bouverot, director general, GSMA

Anne Bouverot, director general, GSMA

The director general of the GSMA, Anne Bouverot, has sent an open letter to EC Commissioner Neelie Kroes calling for policy reform that will encourage investment in Europe’s telecoms sector. Bouverot secured endorsements from the CEOs of ten European operators with a combined European mobile customer base of almost three quarters of a billion subscriptions, according to data from Informa’s World Cellular Investors service.

The GSMA said that, despite Europe having the highest regional mobile penetration in the world, it was the only area in which revenues have declined, from €162bn in 2010 to €142bn in 2013. Despite this, the organisation said, “comprehensive policy reform” could enable the European mobile sector to drive investment, improve connectivity and enable innovation.

It is increasingly popular to compare Europe unfavourably with the US and Bouverot’s letter warned that European operators are “facing decreasing revenues and reduced market values compared with oeprators in the US and Asia,” as well as other players in the sector, for which read the internet and OS powerhouses. “This is impairing our ability to invest in the communications infrastructure needed to put Europe back on the path to growth and jobs,” she added.

Bouverot stressed the need for a regulatory overhaul that would enable operators to act unencumbered by “unnecessary layers of regulation”, drive greater harmony across the region and permit operators to consolidate to restructure the market.

She also called for “a level playing field for all”, a statement that again appeared to put internet players in her sights. Even-handed regulation “across the value chain” was needed, she said, as well as “consistent applications of rules irrespective of the technology being used, who is providing the service or where individuals are located.”

Internet players like Google and Facebook (with its recent WhatsApp acquisition) have long been developing services that compete with operators’ core service offerings but attract none of the regulation that comes with a licence to operate a network. Moreover they are driving huge levels of traffic at little or no cost to themselves.

“Operators must have the commercial freedom to develop new business models, innovate at the network and service level, and offer customised services in order to restore the investment climate and drive innovation and competition in the global marketplace,” Bouverot said.

She also called for comprehensive reform of spectrum management policies and a fresh approach to privacy and security issues to improve consumer protection.

While many within the European community look to the leading US operators as evidence that revenue improvements are possible, critics of the US suggest that competition is limited, leaving consumers with too little choice. Meanwhile Kroes’ regulatory reform has focused very much on reducing the costs that must be borne by consumers of mobile telephony.

In recent conversations with, Hannes Ametstreiter, CEO of Telekom Austria (and one of those name-checked in Bouverot’s letter) and Michel Combes, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, have voiced similar opinions to those expressed by Bouverot.

The letter was endoresed by, Timotheus Höttges, CEO, Deutsche Telekom AG; Christian Salbaing, Deputy Chairman, Hutchison Whampoa Europe; Stéphane Richard, Chairman and CEO, Orange; Marco Patuano, CEO, Telecom Italia; César Alierta, Executive Chairman and CEO, Telefónica; Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO, Telekom Austria Group; Jon Fredrik Baksaas, President and CEO, Telenor Group and Chairman, GSMA Board; Johan Dennelind, President and CEO, TeliaSonera; Jo Lunder, CEO, VimpelCom; and Vittorio Colao, CEO, Vodafone Group.

Kroes calls for education and employment reform

Neelie Kroes wants education in the EU to improve, using ICT skills.

Neelie Kroes wants education in the EU to improve, using ICT skills.

European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, this week outlined her intentions to transform education across the EU using information and communications technology (ICT). Kroes, along with the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Sport, Media and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou, plan to unveil new proposals to reform education in Europe next week.

Kroes said that ICT enables a whole new way of learning as information is no longer “locked up” and open resources enable “a million different ways to learn”. She added that teachers are “no longer gatekeepers, but guides”.

“It’s about ICT transforming teaching, just as is has transformed and disrupted so much else in our lives. Learning anywhere, anyhow; learning that’s made-to-measure not off-the-peg. It’s about truly integrating technological tools for twenty-first century teaching,” she said.

But Kroes acknowledged that there are barriers blocking her vision, such as teachers being unfamiliar with ICT or being underequipped. There is also legal uncertainty on what educational institutions can share and access, she said, and in some countries almost half the pupils don’t even have internet at school.

Kroes also called for IT and telecoms firms to do more for the continent’s workforce.

She said that there are more jobs in the digital sector than can be filled at the moment, but that these jobs are waiting for the next generation with the right digital skills.

She attributed this as the reason the EU set up a Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs; a multi-stakeholder partnership to tackle the lack of ICT skills and the hundreds of thousands of unfilled ICT-related vacancies. Kroes also hailed operator group Telefonica for being among the first to present pledges to that initiative.

“It’s not just about safe jobs in big companies of course. With low costs , low barriers to entry, and no limit to your creativity, the internet is a great place for innovators to be. And the natural home for anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset,” she said.

“People who don’t just think: “I could buy this gadget!” – but: “I could make it better”! People who don’t just notice all the problems – but spot the opportunities, and innovate to capture them. Those who don’t dream of a nice steady “9 to 5″ – but want to take a risk and break out on their own.”

Kroes also noted a study revealing that although young Europeans are more digital than the older generation, compared to young people elsewhere in the world, they are actually more pessimistic about the possibilities of technology.

“I want to change that. Once we led the world in ICT: why not any more? Why shouldn’t our people have hope in a digital future? Why shouldn’t Europe be the home of a vibrant digital culture, strong digital companies, and limitless digital creativity? Why shouldn’t the next Facebook, the next Google, the next Kickstarter be European?”

“I think they can. We have the tools, we have the technology, we definitely have the talent. And in a connected continent there is no limit to our ambitions.”

Neelie Kroes: vice president, European Commission for the Digital Agenda: “We are putting Europe at the forefront of the data revolution”

Neelie Kroes, vice president, European Commission for the Digital Agenda

Neelie Kroes is the vice president of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda and is delivering the opening keynote speech of the Broadband World Forum 2012, taking place on the 16 – 18 October 2012 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. We take a look at the nature of her role and the industry topics with which she is closely associated.

Widely known as the European Union’s ‘internet tsar’, since 2010 Neelie Kroes has been vice president of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda for Europe. One of the most influential politicians in Europe, Kroes is a former Dutch Politian that has made Forbes’ ‘The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women’ list five times.

Kroes has earned a reputation for taking a tough stance on technology firms. In 2004 she was the EU’s competition commissioner when it fined Microsoft a hefty €497million for failing to comply with demands made by her predecessor, and she also warned that the leading computer firm that its Vista operating system could fall foul of competition law. As such she has been bestowed the nicknames “Nickel Neelie” or “Steely Neelie”. Nevertheless, back in 1996, as chairperson of Nijenrode University, Kroes once awarded an honorary doctorate to Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates.

Kroes is a well known proponent of free and open source software, and in a 2010 speech at the GNOME Users’ And Developers’ European Conference (GUADEC) proclaimed, “open source is not a dirty word anymore,” highlighting its increasing use in business and in the EU itself.

Her role is to promote and enhance digital growth across Europe. As such she is tasked with helping to ensure that the internet remains a trusted and secure environment, that there is fair competition in the mobile market, and promoting Europe as a hub of technology innovation. Regarding the latter she has recently spoken on the desire to see a ‘made in Europe’ sticker on the advanced chip technology of the future to compete with the rest of the world, and to make this a reality, has proposed a €1.8billion boost in research into micro- and nano-electronics, and photonics.

A key feature of her work is  ensure that every citizen in Europe gains access to a fast broadband connection in support of the EU’s Digital Agenda. This aims to promote digital inclusiveness and enhance the economic competitiveness of the continent through increasing digital literacy. At a recent event launching a Get Online Week as part of an eSkills initiative, Kroes said, “my dream is getting everyone in Europe digital. And by the way, it is not only a dream – it is a promise. It’s about digital inclusion in its widest sense – finding our young people jobs and helping generation learns.”

In response to the ‘net neutrality’ debate, the European Commission did not choose to implement strict laws against the practice but Kroes said that she reserved the right to act if there was excessive throttling of services or over burdensome traffic management. Kroes is now readying a recommendation following a recently released study by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) on net neutrality in the EU.

On her blog she states that it is important for consumers to have access to full, robust, best-effort internet services, to have clarity in the services they are or are not getting, and if they are not satisfied, the ability to more switch providers more easily. “Consumers also need to know if they are getting Champagne or lesser sparkling wine. If it is not full internet, it shouldn’t be marketed as such; perhaps it shouldn’t be marketed as “internet” at all, at least not without any upfront qualification,” said Kroes in her recent blog post. Kroes also notes that techniques that limit speed often use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) techniques and that these present a threat to privacy.

Regarding disingenuous broadband connection speed claims from ISPs, Kroes says that, “consumers need clear information on actual, real-life broadband speeds. Not just the speed at 3am, but the speed at peak times. The upload as well as the download speed.”

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) debate that raged in the US at the start of the year that would have permitted the US government the ability to target legitimate sites if users share pirated content on them. Kroes was clear in her disapproval of this controversial bill and in a tweet at the time stated, “Glad tide is turning on Sopa: don’t need bad legislation when should be safeguarding benefits of open net.” Kroes followed this up with, “”Speeding is illegal too, but you don’t put speed bumps on the motorway.”

Her broadband plan aims to have fast broadband coverage for everyone by 2020 with half of all households enjoying ultra-fast connections. Fast broadband services are essential, she believes, in order to make use of cloud services. She has called for action to support the speedy uptake of cloud computing in Europe, and has said that the obstacles to cloud adoption, such as standards certification, data protection, interoperability, lock-in, and legal certainty, need to be addressed.

Other topics Kroes has highlighted are dealing with cyberbullying, the use of technology to improve healthcare and how technology is affecting copyright laws. Kroes recently spoke to the European Parliament on the issue of high roaming charges across Europe for voice, texts and data, referring to them an “irritant”, preventing the common use of smartphones and tablets. “People are fed up with nasty surprises when they open their bill,” she said in a speech to the European Parliament on the issue. “People who want to browse abroad shouldn’t be held back by a fear of high charges.” As such, she urged MEPs to back a deal that would force operates to lower charges from July 2012. Here her main concern is with data charges, and expressed satisfaction that that bill would end rip off charges “once and for all”. The move, she claimed, would, “place Europe at the forefront of the data revolution.”

More on Neelie Kroes:


Neelie Kroes will be the opening keynote speaker at the Broadband World Forum 2012, taking place on the 16 – 18 October 2012 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Click here now to register your interest. – telecoms industry news, analysis and opinion

Kroes vows to “burn red tape” blocking broadband rollout

Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda

Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda

European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes has outlined proposals to cut the costs and bureaucracy involved in broadband deployment, suggesting that the sector could make savings of up to €60bn. Kroes said that she wants to “burn the red tape” that is blocking access for all EU citizens to cast broadband.

In February this year the Commission cut the budget for the Connecting Europe Facility—which aims to fund the rollout of super-fast broadband across the continent—from the €9.2bn that Kroes sought to just €1bn.

The proposals announced on Tuesday include plans to cut the amount of time taken to respond to planning permission for new infrastructure sites; one of the most significant barriers to network deployment. In a statement Kroes’ office said that it wants to see a maximum response time of six months for all permit applications and a single point of contact made available for operators making those applications.

Kroes also wants to improve cooperation between different infrastructure providers.

“At the moment, there is no market-place for physical infrastructure and the potential to use infrastructure belonging to other utilities. Regulations in certain Member States even discourage utility companies from cooperating with telecom operators,” the statement said. – telecoms industry news, analysis and opinion

Departing Neelie Kroes urges telcos to embrace OTTs

Kroes suggests telcos need to embrace the OTT relationship.

Kroes suggests telcos need to embrace the OTT relationship.

The European Commission Vice President, Neelie Kroes, has delivered a farewell speech to the members of the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO); in which she urged telcos to embrace over-the-top (OTT) players, and stated her dream for the European telecommunications sector after the current Commission’s tenure ends at the end of October.

Kroes began her speech with an acknowledgement of the turbulent relationship that she has enjoyed with the telecoms sector. “You will know this is among our last moments together,” she said. “In fact, you’re probably all looking forward to the very near future, when the Juncker Commission takes office, when you won’t have to put up with me anymore.”

It’s true, the telecoms operators and Kroes haven’t always seen eye to eye. Kroes has occasionally pointed at an uncooperative telecoms market as a key factor holding back the progression of the Commission’s Digital Single Market proposal. Meanwhile, action regulating roaming revenues saw a reduction of roaming data fees by 55% in 2014 compared to 2013, and between 20% and 30% reductions in call and messaging fees.

Kroes also went on to urge operators to change their views of OTT players in the industry, and highlighted digital content providers as a key motivator for consumer use of broadband services.

“The current situation of European telcos is not the ‘fault’ of those OTT’s. Today, all EU homes have broadband coverage; 76% have a connection; almost half can access it on their mobile,” she said. “They are demanding greater and greater bandwidth, faster and faster speeds, and are prepared to pay for it. But how many of them would do that if there were no over the top services? If there were no Facebook, no YouTube, no Netflix, no Spotify? OTT players are the ones driving digital demand, demand for your services! That is something you can work with, not against.”

Rounding off her somewhat sentimental speech to ETNO, Kroes reminded the operators’ that the Digital Single Market proposal will be maintained and advanced during the tenure of Jean-Claude Juncker, who begins in office as the European Commission’s President on 1st November.

“This is a project that will continue under the next mandate; as Jean-Claude Juncker has made clear,” She said. “A project that can ensure our digital future, where a strong telecoms sector supports every European. That is was I long for, and that is what all of you should long for too.”