The technology industries in Europe (and of course we legal technology vultures for whom these industries are our food) are waiting with interest to see how bold the European Commission’s proposals will be at setting the new European Digital Agenda. In all probability the answer is probably going to be “not very bold”, or even just “C minus: should have tried harder”.
In my blog earlier this week, I touched on one of the big ticket items for the European Digital Agenda and for our individual national governments, which is the re-allocation of spectrum to support mobile broadband applications, and how following majority agreement at the International Telecommunications Union’s World Radio Conference 2015, the release of spectrum wavelengths for broadband use is likely to be fed through into the European Commission’s new electronic communications framework proposals.
Other pressing issues for the European Digital Agenda includes (a) greater focus on the roll out of rural broadband to support more even economic development in Europe’s broadband superhighway slow lanes; and whether (b) to increase the fell hand of regulation over the bandwidth hungry application service providers or “over the top” providers such as Google, Whatsapp (now Facebook), Apple and Microsoft….. or (c) move in the opposite direction, and loosen the shackles on the traditional fixed line and mobile providers, who complain that they are unable to compete fairly against their over the top rivals in the evolving technology space.
Arguably though, there is another equally large priority (d) for the European Digital Agenda, and that is putting Europe on the front foot in the roll out 5G services and the new services which 5G will bring. It is at this point that the “elephant in the room” becomes clearly visible to European technology watchers, that unlike global competitors such as the US, where telecommunications regulations are truly governed at the federal level, Europe is quite a different proposition. Behind the European Digital Agenda hype, the member states of Europe are individual nation states with often quite widely divergent economies and challenges, and whilst increased economic convergence up to the level of the wealthier European nations would no doubt be greatly assisted by better co-ordination of the European digital agenda, including a European wide framework for spectrum management, the individual priorities of each country seem time and time again, to come down against relinquishing that national control. This is the classic “prisoner’s dilemma scenario” outlined by Thomas Hobbes in “Leviathan”, his gripping but ultimately deeply depressing seventeenth century analysis of the nature of man and man’s relationship with the State.
We will almost certainly hear fine words from the European Commission this quarter about furthering the European Digital Agenda, but the shabby reality is more likely to be that Europe muddles on at least for the foreseeable future with irritating service gaps at our national borders, multiple superfast broadband black spots across our rural communities, patchy and inconsistent roll out of 5G services; and the continuing suppression of the new businesses, which will feed and grow to their full potential only if provided with a world leading Europe wide communications infrastructure.