Information technologies, with special reference to the Internet and mobile telephony, have enabled the development of the Information Society. This sector represents nearly 4 % of total employment in the European Union (EU) directly and also enables the generation of other indirect employment and wealth creation activities. The EU intends to promote the development and dissemination of new information and communication technologies (ICT), in accordance with Articles 179 to 180 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The EU completed the liberalisation of the European telecommunications market in 1998. This framework has since been reformed twice: in 2003 and 2009. The 2009 “Telecoms Package” aims to ensure fair competition between telecommunications operators.

The European Commission’s publication in 1987 of the Green Paper on the Development of the Common Market for Telecommunications Services and Equipment marked the start of the process of liberalisation of the telecommunications sector. The process continued with the gradual introduction of a legal framework for telecommunications comprising five main directives: the ‘Framework’, ‘Access’, ‘Authorisation’, ‘Universal Service’ and ‘Privacy’ Directives. In 2009, the Commission revised the ‘Telecoms Package’ by adopting the ‘Better Regulation’ and ‘Citizens’ Rights’ Directives and setting up the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC).

This Regulation is part of the December 2009 “Telecom Package” which amends the directives on electronic communications. It creates the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and its Office. The main objective of this body of law is to enhance cooperation among national regulatory authorities (NRAs) and to strengthen the internal market in electronic communications networks.

The opening-up of the telecommunications market to competition has acted as a catalyst on a sector previously reserved for monopolies or, at most, oligopolies. To keep up with these changes, Europe’s decision-making bodies have adopted legislation in tune with technological progress and market requirements. These developments have given rise to the adoption of a new regulatory framework on electronic communications, the main aim of which is to strengthen competition by making market entry easier and by stimulating investment in the sector.

The European Union intends to ensure the availability of a minimum set of high-quality services that are available to all users at an affordable price, without distortion of competition. It therefore lays down obligations with regard to the provision of certain mandatory services, such as the retail provision of leased lines. It also establishes end-users’ rights and the corresponding obligations of undertakings that provide publicly available electronic communications networks and services.

Information and Communication Technologies, and in particular the Internet and electronic messaging services, call for specific requirements to ensure that users have a right to privacy. This Directive contains provisions that are crucial to ensuring that users can trust the services and technologies they use for communicating electronically. The main provisions apply to spam, ensuring the user’s prior consent (“opt-in”), and the installation of cookies.

The present Directive aims to consolidate the Directives adopted in 1988 and 1994 to open telecommunications terminal markets to competition. It includes the elimination of special or exclusive rights relating to the importation, marketing, connection, bringing into service and maintenance of telecommunications terminal equipment. This Directive also aims to improve the transparency of the characteristics of different equipment to allow users to benefit from technological progress and make informed choices as consumers.

The trend towards liberalisation also extends to directory and directory enquiry services, frequencies, television satellites and cable networks with the same objective of abolishing any unjustified restriction which might hinder the development of competing services.

The Digital Agenda is part of the Europe 2020 strategy. It is aimed at better developing the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in order to promote innovation, economic growth and progress. It follows the i2010, eEurope 2005, eEurope 2002 and eEurope initiatives.

The Digital Agenda presented by the European Commission constitutes one of the seven pillars of the Europe 2020 Strategy which sets objectives for the growth of the European Union (EU) by 2020. The Digital Agenda proposes the better exploitation of the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in order to foster innovation, economic growth and progress. The European Commission has proposed a Digital Agenda of which the main objective is to develop a digital single market in order to generate smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe. The actions to be taken to bring about this goal are:

  • Achieving the digital single market;
  • Enhancing interoperability and standards;
  • Consolidating online trust and security;
  • Promoting fast and ultra fast Internet access for all (the Commission intends to use European funds (ERDF or EAFRD, in particular) in order to finance investment in broadband);
  • Investing in research and innovation (the Commission therefore intends to encourage private investment and to double public expenditure to develop ICTs);
  • Enhancing digital literacy, skills and inclusion (the Commission proposes to givepriority to digital literacy and skills through the European Social Fund); and
  • Leveraging smart use of technology for society.

The overall aim of this Action Plan is to facilitate the transition of current administrations to a new generation of eGovernment services at the local, regional, national and European levels. In order to achieve this aim, the Commission defines four types of action to be taken to meet the priorities set out in the Malmö Declaration.

Priority 1: User empowerment: User empowerment aims at increasing the capacity of citizens, businesses and other organisations to be pro-active in society through the use of new technological tools.

Priority 2: Strengthening the internal market: At present, it is difficult to apply for services from one country when in another EU country. In order to strengthen the internal market in this regard, the Commission proposes various initiatives to develop:

  • seamless business services;
  • personal mobility; and
  • the implementation of cross-border services at the EU level.

Priority 3: Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of Governments and administrations: In order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Governments and administrations, this Action Plan underlines the necessity to promote ICT, which would enable:

  • organisational processes to be improved;
  • administrative burdens to be reduced; and
  • green administration to be prioritized.

Priority 4: Creating preconditions for the development of e-Government: The deployment of e-Government services in Europe requires the implementation of a certain number of conditions including:

  • interoperability;
  • identification and authentication; and
  • innovation.

The EU broadband market is the largest in the world. Certain EU Member States are leaders in terms of the rate of take-up. However, only 2 – 5 % of broadband lines use fibre optics (Fibre-to-the-home or LAN), while this figure is 51.4 % in Japan and 46 % in Korea. Consequently, if the EU network is to remain at the forefront, EU networks must be improved and updated.

The European Union has now proposed solutions to improve the current framework governing broadband and to integrate it with the Digital Agenda for Europe. The Digital Agenda’s broadband targets can only be achieved if all Member States commit to them and develop operational plans defining their national objectives. The construction of broadband infrastructure and Internet take-up is supported by the Structural Funds and Rural Development Funds. For the 2007-2013 period, EUR 2.3 billion of Structural Funds have been allocated to broadband infrastructure, while EUR 12.9 billion have been allocated to information society services. In the same period, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) received more than EUR 1 billion and, of this, EUR 360 million were invested in broadband projects.

ICTs represent a major challenge in terms of productivity, growth and jobs. The EU and its Member States must quickly adopt rapidly-developing ICT in order to bridge the e-skills gap and to be in a position to create and reap the benefits of a real knowledge-based economy.

The European Commission’s observations are as follows:

  • e-skills are not really recognised as a major political challenge;
  • there is no comprehensive e-skills strategy in the EU, where regulations still differ from one country to another;
  • the image problem and decline in supply of highly-skilled ICT practitioners, which creates a labour deficit in this field, must be remedied;
  • an even larger gap is opening up between supply and demand of specific e-skills, while digital illiteracy persists.

Therefore, the Commission is insisting on the need to establish a long-term e-skills agenda. Implementation of these measures is the responsibility of the Member States, but they must bring real added value at the European level. The Commission proposes giving its support to initiatives by defining the key components of the agenda and presenting action lines at the European level.

The key components of the agenda are as follows:

  • creating long-term cooperation between the various stakeholders (public authorities, private sector, universities, associations, etc.);
  • investing in human resources;
  • promotion of sciences, maths, e-skills and ICTs and encouraging careers in this field, particularly for young people and girls;
  • improving digital literacy with the emphasis on categories of the population like the unemployed, elderly people and also those with low education levels in order to encourage employability and e-inclusion;
  • enabling lifelong acquisition of e-skills in particular through updating knowledge and developing e-learning.

The Commission has proposed five action lines, the activities of which began in 2007 for complete implementation by 2010. They have been implemented through European programmes such as the Lifelong Learning Programme, the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), and Structural Funds available for the promotion of Employment and Regional Cohesion.

Internet usage is widespread throughout the EU. Nearly one person in two uses the Internet on a daily basis within the EU. The EU, therefore, faces a number of technical challenges such as the provision of a large number of virtual addresses and storage and transfer capacity, and the development of compatible technical standards throughout its territory, in order to guarantee interoperability, online privacy and accessibility.

The EU is also endeavouring to combat illegal online activities by introducing measures such as the Safer Internet Programme 2009-2013.

The protection of personal data is governed by Directive 95/46/EC, which aims to establish a balance between a high level of protection of privacy and the free flow of personal data within the European Union. The European Commission is working to modernise the current framework in order to mount a better response to the new challenges posed by globalisation and new technologies.

European legislation on copyright and related rights is part of the rules introduced by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). This legislation has two aims. They are to protect the economic interests of the authors of artworks such as books, films and musical works, but also to establish databases without hampering creativity and innovation.

ICTs are now used in many fields such as public health, road safety, e-commerce and energy. The EU is therefore endeavouring to regulate the use of ICTs in these different fields in order to improve the quality of life of European citizens. The application of ICT will be implemented through European programmes, such as ERDF in case of public maintsream projects and Grant Schemes in case of privately funded projects through the co-financing ERDF funds offered in Malta by the Malta Enterprise.

The acquis in the field of telecommunications aims to eliminate obstacles to the smooth operation of the single market for telecommunications services and networks and to establish modern services which are accessible to all.

Equinox aims to assist organisational entities interested in developing projects within the several funding programmes there are for various areas of ICT. We can assist organisations in understanding the objectives issued foropen calls by any of the national funding authorities, the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development(FP7), the Safer Internet Programmeor within the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme(CIP), as well as in formulating and internally evaluating their proposals.

For more information about our Information Society services, please contact us here.