Meanwhile the Council of Europe calls for international Internet treaty
The European Commission has published a package of measures to facilitate the roll-out and take-up of fast and ultra-fast broadband, aimed at hitting the targets set out in the European Digital Agenda.
The package takes a three-pronged approach, covering regulated access to Next Generation Access networks, the availability of radio *SPECT*RUM*, and how public and private investment in networks can be encouraged.
On that first point, the EC has set out a common regulatory approach for access to new high-speed fibre networks. These networks, said the EC, require national telecoms regulators to ensure an appropriate balance between the needs to encourage investment and to safeguard competition. The approach, it said, would provide increased regulatory clarity to all market players, which is necessary to stimulate investment in fast and ultra-fast broadband.
French communications regulator ARCEP agreed, welcoming the announcement. In a statement it said, "The text adopted by the European Commission plans for a regulatory framework for newly deployed networks that achieves a balance between encouraging operators to make sizeable investments in their rollouts, and guaranteeing open and non-discriminatory access to competing operators.
"This European Commission recommendation helps to clarify the new regulatory framework that will govern fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) rollouts, and so provides operators with the predictability and legal certainty they need to be able to make their investment decisions."
In terms of **SPECT*RUM*,, the EC has asked for a decision by the European Parliament and Council to establish a five year policy programme to promote efficient radio *SPECT*RUM*,* management. In particular, it wants to ensure that sufficient **SPECT*RUM*, is made available by 2013 for wireless broadband, which it said would significantly contribute to bringing fast broadband connections to people in remote areas and to make innovative services available across Europe.
And finally it set out a framework for meeting the Digital Agenda's broadband targets and, in particular, outlined how best to encourage public and private investment in fast and ultra-fast broadband networks. Those targets are to ensure basic broadband coverage for all EU citizens by 2013, with at 30 Megabits per second available to all by 2020. By this point it wants at least half European households subscribing to broadband access at 100 Megabits per second.
To achieve this, the EC has called on Member States to introduce operational broadband plans for high and ultra high speed networks with concrete implementation measures. It has provided guidance on how to cut investment costs and how public authorities can support broadband investment, which includes making better use EU funds. It also announced plans by the European Commission and the European Investment Bank to bring forward broadband finance instruments.
Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda said, "Fast broadband is digital oxygen, essential for Europe's prosperity and well-being. These measures will help to ensure that Europeans get the first-class Internet they expect and deserve, so that they can access the content and services they want. "
According to the EC, Europe as a region currently has the highest average levels of broadband take-up worldwide (24.8%) but its networks need to be further developed and upgraded as only 1% of Europeans have a high-speed fibre internet connection directly to their homes, compared to 12% of Japanese and 15% of South Koreans.
With all of this high speed fibre to be put in place in the next 10 years, and universal Internet access to be guaranteed, effective net governance is becoming increasingly important. So important, says the Council of Europe, that we now need a global Internet Treaty to enshrine into law the principles of open standards, net neutrality and freedom of expression, which has the ultimate aim of protecting the net from political interference. Good luck.
The idea was presented last week at this year's Internet Governance Forum in Vilnius, Lithuania, and was compared to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. That, among other things, says that the exploration of outer space shall be done to benefit all countries and shall be free for exploration and use by all States - and no moon weapons.
The Council said that governments were threatening the internet with fragmentation by bringing it under political control, and that "openness and interoperability" and "network neutrality" would be two of 12 Principles of Internet Governance included in the treaty.
Arguably the problem with this will be that the cat is pretty much already out of the bag. It's fine talking about theoretical possibilities of moon bases and space weapons, but many governments are currently seeing the 'benefits' of controlling the Internet, and are unlikely to relinquish this power easily. It's certainly worth a shot, though, and it will be interesting to see how far the idea goes, and who is actually willing to sign up to it.
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