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 of the European Commission

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.

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