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Half of Europeans subscribing to ultra-high-speed broadband by 2020, bringing an end to the phenomenon of 'digital virgins' and the creation of a European cyber-attack rapid response system – these are just some of the ambitious goals contained in the EU's five-year plan for the online world, unveiled on Wednesday (19 May).
Anxious that the US, Japan and South Korea – still in parts classified as a developing country – are stealing a march on the old continent, where almost a third of people have still never accessed the worldwide web, the European Commission says it is time for a digital revolution.
While today, just one percent of Europeans are signed up to fast fibre-based internet, 12 percent of Japanese have such connections and 15 percent of South Koreans.
"Can you imagine that there are still some 30 percent of Europeans who have never used the internet? Digital virgins, so to say," Dutch commissioner Neelie Kroes said in announcing the wide-ranging plans. "We want to ensure they all have the opportunity to discover the wonders of the digital world."
By 2013, Brussels wants all Europeans to have basic broadband and by 2020, for everyone to have access high-speed broadband above 30Mbps, with 50 percent of Europeans able to subscribe to ultra-high-speed rates of above 100Mbps.
The strategy focuses on seven key goals, comprising a full 100 separate actions to be taken, including 31 different pieces of legislation.
Pride of place in the strategy is the creation of a genuine single digital market across the bloc.
The EU executive complains that national barriers are fragmenting telecoms services and access to digital content, and the commission aims to tear these down.
"Citizens should be able to enjoy commercial services and cultural entertainment across borders. But EU online markets are still separated by barriers which hamper access to pan-European telecoms services, digital services and content," the commission said. "Today there are four times as many music downloads in the US as in the EU because of the lack of legal offers and fragmented markets."
"There is a digital single market in Europe, but it is an illegal one – that of music downloads," Ms Kroes told reporters.
Responding to the problem, the commission by the end of this year intends to propose a new directive on collective rights management that will simplify copyright clearance, management and cross-border licensing.
Brussels this year will also set a date by which a single market in online payments will be achieved.
At the moment, just eight percent of online shoppers in Europe buy something from another member state, while a 60 percent of those who try to do so regularly fail due to technical hiccups or just because their non-domestic credit card is not recognised.
In 2011, the commission wants to realise full cross-border e-authentication, which it hopes will put an end to these problems, and will pursue the idea of EU online "trustmarks" for web-based shoppers and to construct a European online dispute-resolution system.
With concerns growing amongst EU citizens about their rights online, the commission will issue a "digital code" covering citizens' rights on the web.
The EU executive also hopes to set up a European rapid response system to cyber-attacks, including a network of computer emergency response teams (Certs) and this year intends to boost the role of the European Network and Information Security Agency, Enisa.
Enisa works to secure information networks, but is at the moment largely a clearinghouse for expertise in the subject with little in the way of teeth to tackle the problem.
Married to this move will be proposals for tougher laws against cyber attacks, again by the end of this year, with proposals by 2013 on cyberspace jurisdiction rules both at the European and international level.
Spending on research and development in the sector is woefully lacking, the commission believes, with the public sector funds for ICT R&D amounting to just €5.5 billion a year across the bloc. By 2020, Brussels wants this doubled to €11 billion and will lay out a framework on how this can be achieved both at the EU and member-state level.
Rounding out the plans, the strategy also includes targets for telemedicine, the use of ICT to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improving the online skills of both young and old people.
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