Stimulating digital inclusion in Europe


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Paul Ryan of Vodafone discusses how communications take up can be stimulated by targeted and cohesive intervention

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  • Welcome and thank you Particular thanks to Joseph Borrell Fontelles, Chairman Development Committee, EP for hosting this event And to                   Luis Riera Figueras, Director of Development Policy, Thematic issues, DG Development Yury Grin, Deputy Director Development, ITU I’m sure their contributions will make for an interesting and informed debate This debate is very timely in view of the Plenary of the European Parliament debate/vote on 24 March (Strasbourg) on a report the Africa-EU strategy (drawn up by MEP Maria Martens). The report looks at how successfully Africa and EU have implemented the strategic partnership they signed up to in Lisbon in December 2007. Vodafone very much shares the importance the EP gives to the EU/Africa relationship. We hope that the new EP will continue activity in this area. Vodafone agrees with some key findings of the Parliamentary report and in particular: bridge the digital divide by stepping up cooperation on technology development and transfer, particularly concerning telephony and the Internet; take urgent action in the field of health as underlined in the recommendations of the European Court of Auditors January 2009 report on "EC Development Assistance to Health Services in Sub-Saharan Africa"; SLIDE 1- INTRO
  • Stimulating digital inclusion in Europe

    1. 1. Thoughts on digital inclusion, to stimulate a debate in Europe and to refresh an outdated approach Paul Ryan Group External Relations, Vodafone Group 24 March 2009
    2. 2. 1980-2009, 30 years of debate <ul><li>Internal to the telecoms sector (before 1998 it was internalized within national incumbent PTTs) </li></ul><ul><li>focused on access to historically available networks and to services, primarily pricing and infrastructure </li></ul><ul><li>assumed that lack of access to voice (and later narrowband data) contributed to exclusion from social and economic activities </li></ul><ul><li>led to relatively low levels of intervention in developed markets, largely because the explosion of mobile addressed narrowband access challenges where existing state funded PTT fixed line networks did not already do so </li></ul>
    3. 3. 1980-2009, 30 years of debate, 2 conclusions <ul><li>universal voice and narrowband data access has been delivered via market mechanisms * </li></ul><ul><ul><li>so there is no good case for introducing obligations in relation to mobile specifically </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>or to suppose that direct public intervention will be required to extend mobile voice availability in future. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>this traditional approach to voice and narrowband access was inadequate for its stated aims </li></ul><ul><ul><li>and it will remain inadequate when addressing today’s challenges of digital inclusion. </li></ul></ul>* Accessibility for certain disabled customer segments remains an issue
    4. 4. 2009-2030, a new suite of challenges <ul><ul><li>the challenges include a significantly broader set of issues such as education, literacy, device availability and prices, in essence targeting subsidies amongst different social groups not reached by telcos today </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>requiring mobilization of existing social welfare support networks (eg income support, welfare benefits, literacy projects, targeting of particular social groups well beyond the jurisdiction of NRAs. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>next generation network availability itself presents major new policy challenges </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>public funding or subsidy, will generally fall outside the remit of the telecoms regulator, and is also likely to be significantly larger than we have seen to date encompassing strategic governmental issues relating to economic recovery and industrial policy as much as inclusion (Obama Stimulus plan, Digital Britian etc) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>it is far from clear how best to promote digital inclusion in today’s world. We know that the needs of different parts of society and different societies may differ quite fundamentally. The digital divide is as likely to also have a dimension between young “digital natives” and older “digital immigrants” as between the relatively wealthy and relatively poor. There appears to be a lack of serious research which would help in segmenting user needs and understanding how to prioritise regulatory interventions. It is quite possible – indeed likely – that the traditional USO network subsidy based approach could assume a relatively low priority </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. 2009-2030, a new suite of policies <ul><ul><li>reach beyond the narrow confines of telecoms regulatory policy and instead becomes reformulated as ‘digital inclusion’ which should be an explicit part of the social policy agenda . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>funding of digital inclusion activities should form part of general taxation , broadening the tax base and reducing the risk of distortion in the telecoms sector. US & UK plans provide an opportunity to do this but should not be a “one off” but a restructuring of public funding delivery in this area. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>much more research is needed to really understand the consequences of digital exclusion and the challenges which it presents. This includes a much more detailed segmentation of different user needs and how these relate to digital exclusion than has been attempted under traditional USO policy. Traditional network or service based approaches are probably outdated. </li></ul></ul>
    6. 6. 2009-2030, targeted and cohesive intervention <ul><ul><li>state intervention be targeted on the demand side of the digital inclusion equation (improving user interest, capability or ability to pay) rather than the supply side (directly subsidizing provision) whilst recognising that next generation network investments may require government stimulus. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>other policy and regulatory initiatives – such as spectrum policy, regulatory treatment of infrastructure sharing or co-investment, mobile termination rate intervention – should be assessed in light of digital inclusion objectives and the Commission (and national regulators) should be required to state how and why they contribute to these objectives and, if not, the rationale for departing from them </li></ul></ul>
    7. 8. Thank you