Cutting mobile and data roaming charges, however, has long been held up as one of the most popular EU policies. Assuming you own one of these newfangled “mobile telephones”, you may already have received a message from your provider telling you that roaming charges will be halved from the beginning of this month. And the EU wants to go even further. Earlier this year, the European Parliament voted to cut all roaming charges within the EU to zero by December 2015.
We recently spoke to Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, about the cap and the EU’s “digital market”.
We started with a comment from Jakub, who said he wanted the complete abolition of all mobile roaming charges in Europe. The consumers might like it, but is this a realistic policy?
Absolutely. We proposed it last September, and in April the European Parliament voted to end roaming charges in the EU by December 2015. So, great news! And I think you would certainly agree we should know what we are buying, we shouldn’t be ripped off, and we should have the opportunity to change our minds – and that is also part of the package [of laws voted on by the European Parliament]. So, we should not be forever connected with one operator because [of a restrictive contract].
A lot of politicians in Europe speak about the importance of the “digital market” (including the incoming Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has made it his number one priority). However, we had a comment from Iulian who thinks we really have a long way to go. He describes the EU’s digital market as still too fragmented and says there are too many internal obstacles for businesses, which is why we haven’t seen a European Facebook, Microsoft, Google or Apple. Do you agree?
Completely. Europe is still too fragmented, and everyone in European can now travel freely across borders, and study in different countries, and have their qualifications recognised everywhere. So, if we can achieve that, then we should be able to achieve a complete digital Single Market. And, for me, a digital Single Market means absolutely clear rules on products and services sold over the internet.
Not everybody shares your optimism. Mike, for example, doesn’t think the digital future looks good in Europe. He thinks we can’t compete with the US for innovation, and argues it will soon be easier and cheaper for ICT and digital services to be outsourced to countries such as India and China. Is he right?
Not completely. I’m far more optimistic than Mike, so that is my starting point. There’s still a lot to do. By the way, in the 1990’s, Europe was leading the world in mobile phones thanks to the GSM standard. We have lost our edge and, for me, that is even more reason for us to do our utmost to take a leading position again.
We have so much talent in Europe – we have bright, young innovators, we have start-ups; they are passionate, they are intelligent and they are brilliant entrepreneurs. We can make it, so let’s go for it.
Our final question came from Jenny, who wanted to know what the EU is doing to ensure the “digital divide” in Europe doesn’t increase further, in terms of inequality in access and knowledge of ICT? With so much discussion about poverty and inequality in the EU today, how can we ensure Europe isn’t divided between the digital “haves” and “have-nots”?
A very fascinating question. It is one of my leading considerations when approaching policy and strategy. I don’t want to have a digital divide in Europe. Not at all. Every European should have access to the benefits of information technology, and we are working very hard to bridge the digital divide in Europe. Everything we do under the umbrella of the digital agenda is aimed at this.
Just one example: last October we succeeded – and I’m proud of this – in achieving 100% basic broadband access across the whole of Europe. Not all the rural areas were that easy, so sometimes we have to work with satellite broadband associations, but we got the final percentage: 100%.
And we published the digital agenda scoreboard for Europe, which will hopefully just push those who are a bit behind the countries that are making good progress in ICT skills and broadband uptake. And I also encourage everyone to start coding, because those skills could open so many opportunities and, as the digital economy becomes more important, Europe will need people to run it.
On 1 July, data and mobile roaming charges were cut across the EU. Do you support abolishing them completely by December 2015? Or is this something most Europeans don’t care about? Is Europe becoming divided between the digital “haves” and “have-nots”? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reaction.