BRUSSELS (03/08/2000) - Internet access costs in Europe must come down if usage is to increase and the goals of the "eEurope" initiative are to be realized.
This is one of the conclusions of a status report on progress towards implementing the initiative approved by the European Commission today. The eEurope initiative is designed to bring every European citizen, school, business and administration rapidly on to the Internet.
The report will now be submitted to the March 23 Lisbon European Council, where the Commission wants heads of state and government to agree on the priority areas to be targeted and timetables for action. The Lisbon council will identify and provide political support for measures to improve the competitiveness of European industry, and since mastering the Internet is widely viewed as a key to future economic growth and job creation, the eEurope initiative is seen as part of this.
On the basis of this endorsement, the Commission will prepare an Action Plan for eEurope that will be adopted during the June European Council.
The European Council meeting and the status report are all part of an intense effort on the part of the commission to make sure that the European Union seizes opportunities provided by the Internet to modernize its economy and improve its competitiveness.
The 26-page status report comprises primarily a review of each of the ten major objectives identified in the December eEurope initiative, including the need for cheaper Internet access, the acceleration of electronic commerce, the development of a fast Internet for researchers, and smart cards for secure electronic access.
The report also summarizes statistics on Internet penetration in Europe (12 percent of EU homes or 20 percent of the EU population), and highlights the importance of reducing Internet access costs: where access is cheaper (in Finland and Sweden, for example) the report notes that Internet penetration is much higher, at about 40 percent of homes.
In January, the commission held a public hearing on the telecom review process to identify where changes in EU legislation is needed, and in February, it published a consultation document on local loop unbundling, which will help shape a forthcoming Recommendation on the subject.
For the future, the document identifies a series of actions to be taken. By the middle of this year, the commission will put forward proposals to implement the conclusions of the telecom review. It will also assess the impact of the recommendation on leased line costs and, if necessary, take regulatory steps to reduce these tariffs. Other actions include taking measures to drastically reduce licensing obligations and proposing a future policy on radio frequency allocations.