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Europe vows to keep shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic

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Lamenting the sorry state of the European Union, head honcho Jean-Claude Juncker reckons the solution lies in doing what it has always done, only more so.

In common with religious cults and student politicians the founding principle of any bureaucracy is dogma, without which the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. As the European Union struggles to keep itself together amid dissenting Brits and fiscal farce its claims of divine infallibility grow ever shriller.

Juncker’s state of the union speech today reads superficially like a genuine attempt to honestly confront the bloc’s many challenges, but ultimately retreats to safe, well-trodden ground. Major new initiatives surrounding telecoms and copyright are founded on the basic principle that the EU knows best, so any tinkering must, by definition, be for the greater good.

“Europeans want concrete solutions to the very pertinent problem that our Union is facing,” said Juncker. “And they want more than promises, resolutions and summit conclusions. They have heard and seen these too often. Europeans want common decisions followed by swift and efficient implementation. Yes, we need a vision for the long term. And the Commission will set out such a vision for the future in a White Paper in March 2017.” And they saw that it was good. No time like the present eh?

Moving on to telecoms Juncker announced “We need to be connected. Our economy needs it. People need it. And we have to invest in that connectivity now.” For now this seems to take the form of the kinds of resolutions he had previously derided, specifically the following non-binding 2025 targets:

  1. All major public buildings should have access to 1Gbps+ connectivity
  2. All households should have at least 100Mbps connectivity
  3. All urban areas as well as major roads and railways should have uninterrupted 5G coverage, with 5G in at least one city per country by 2020 as an interim target

Juncker acknowledged that all this next-gen network goodness will cost a euro or two, but seems to think the best way to encourage telecoms companies to invest is to consolidate a bunch of different rules and regulations into one, easy-to-manage, monthly payment called the European Electronic Communications Code.

There’s also a new initiative called ‘WIFI4EU’, which will actually receive some EU largesse to the tune of €120 million, designed to make free public wifi ubiquitous across the bloc. The cash has been set aside to pay for the gear and installation costs but not maintenance. The initiative is aimed at areas that are not currently served by some other public wifi service, which could be private.

“Without first-class communication networks, there will be no Digital Single Market,” said Juncker’s euro-mate Andrus Ansip. “We need connectivity that people can afford and use while on the move. To achieve that, spectrum policies must be better coordinated across the EU. More competition and further integration of the European market will allow us to reach these goals, helped by the right environment created by the new Communications Code.”

“Connectivity is a key prerequisite for Europe’s digital future: The Internet of Things, digitisation of industry, cloud, big data – all this demands secure and ubiquitous connectivity, with the best speed and quality,” said the third member of the gang Günther Oettinger. “Europe has the ambition to lead on the deployment of 5G. It is time to move to a gigabit society and make sure all Europeans, whether in the countryside or in cities, can get access to a quality internet connection.”

The copyright stuff focuses on the need to protect individual rights holder from having their IP exploited for profit without them getting their appropriate piece of the action. While this is clearly in reference to the big US internet players like Facebook and Google, there was no mention of the anticipated move to regulate OTTs in the same way as telcos.

“I want journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work, whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online, whether it is published via a copying machine or commercially hyperlinked on the web,” said Juncker, and it’s hard for any writer to argue with that.

This increased OTT regulation, which is expected to target services like WhatsApp and Skype, may well still be in the pipeline. The rationale behind it seems to be to level the playing field for the heavily-regulated telecoms companies and it’s typical of EU logic that it thinks the best way to do that is to hinder the OTTs, rather than make things easier for telcos.


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