EU Publishes 'Digital Agenda' Five-year Plan for IT

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On Wednesday, the European Commission announced its Digital Agenda, a five-year plan that will set the pace for telecommunications in Europe. The plan includes measures to boost legal music downloads, speed up broadband adoption and set up a rapid response system for cyber-attacks, the Commission said.

The agenda focuses on seven areas: creating a digital single market, interoperability, Internet trust and security, broadband, investment in research and development, enhancing digital literacy skills and inclusion, and using ICT to combat problems such as climate change.

Creating a single market for digital products and services such as online entertainment seems close to digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes' heart. It is unacceptable that there are four times more legal music downloads in the U.S. than in Europe, she said during a news conference to present the plan. The reason for the disparity, she said, is a lack of legal offers and a fragmented market. The Commission intends to change that by simplifying copyright clearance and cross-border licensing by the end of 2010, according to Kroes.

Providing broadband access to more people is also something the Digital Agenda sets out to d. By 2013, the plan aims for all Europeans should have access to broadband and by 2020 at least 50 percent of European households should subscribe to Internet access above 100 Mbps. However, the Agenda includes few details of how that will be achieved. Later this year, the Commission will present a common framework for how it expects the goal to be realized, including how to attract investment capital with backing from the European Investment Bank.

Digital technologies have the potential to improve people's daily lives, but for that to happen people have to feel safe online, the Commission said. To ensure that, the Agenda includes plans for a better-coordinated European response to cyber attacks, identity theft and spam, and reinforced rules on personal data protection, which will be proposed later this year.

The agenda also calls for an increased use of standards and interoperability in government procurement of IT, including proposing legal measures to reform the rules on the implementation of standards. The Commission also plans to address situations in which standards do not help because significant market players do not support them.

The plan to give standards a greater role is welcomed by the European chapter of the Free Software Foundation, but the organization said the Commission isn't doing nearly enough.

The Digital Agenda itself avoids any reference to open standards, according to the Free Software Foundation Europe. Instead, the Commission points to the European Interoperability Framework, which is being systematically hollowed out, it said.

The Commission also urges EU Member States to double annual public spending on R&D to €11 billion (US$14 billion) by 2020, backed by European programs.

Achieving all the goals that are set out in the Agenda will be a tough challenge, but is not unrealistic, according to Kroes.

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