Neelie Kroes Vice President, European Commission
The European Commission (EC) shapes much of Europe’s digital and communications policies. One of the big questions facing the EC in recent years is how positive it has been towards using satellite to reduce digital divides and provide broadband across Europe. Neelie Kroes, EC vice president, is responsible for setting Europe’s digital agenda during the next few years. Here, she talks about the role satellite will play with other technologies in bringing the latest digital and broadband services to households across Europe.
VIA SATELLITE: What do you see as the strengths of satellite technology compared with other communications technologies in bridging the digital divide?
Kroes: My goal is to make every European household digital. Two of the most important targets in Europe’s digital agenda as well as the Europe 2020 strategy for sustainable jobs and growth are to give every European access to basic broadband by 2013 and ultra-fast broadband by 2020. Satellite services are perfectly able to provide access to communication services, such as Internet, mobile multimedia/radio and emergency services for all Europeans, no matter how remote the area in which they live, thus reducing the digital divide. I share the commonly held view that satellite broadband is one of the necessary elements in reaching the ‘broadband for all by 2013’ objective, thanks to the Europe wide coverage area that can be provided via satellite platform once in operation.
VIA SATELLITE: With new Ka-band satellites being launched, do you believe that satellite is the solution to bringing connectivity to rural areas in Europe?
Kroes: Satellite is one of several solutions that can help bring rural and remote areas online. I am happy that companies, including Eutelsat and Avanti Communications, have launched Ka-band satellites. SES is currently planning its next-generation systems also operating at Ka-band. These systems are designed to provide broadband access over the European continent at data speeds up to 10 Mbps. The potential to support the fulfilment of the European 2013 broadband target is here but capacity will be the limiting factor, considering that each satellite could typically serve a couple of hundreds of thousands of users, whilst there are millions of households that have no coverage prospect, even for basic broadband, so far. Clearly, we need to complement terrestrial solutions. Regarding our 30 Mbps target for 2020, affordable satellite solutions are not yet available. Industry is working on this next-generation of systems and our EU funded research is one of the support tools to make it happen. With satellite we need to strike the balance between making service provision financially viable for operators, and promoting affordable offerings to consumers.
VIA SATELLITE: Is there any truth in the perception that European policy makers prefer wireless alternatives, often ignoring satellite technology advancements?
Kroes: Absolutely not! I am very excited about all the developments in the satellite industry. But, let me be clear, I certainly do not want to favor one technology or another. I see that the satellite offering today has some capacity limitations, and this is why it is useful but not the panacea. However, those limitations appear to be addressed with the launch of the new generation of satellites in Ka-band, which have increased performances, and are comparable to terrestrial wireless and ADSL. In addition, future satellites are already contemplated with planned broadband speeds of up to 50 Mbps, though as I said before, it still requires a good deal of research.
There are 95 percent of Europeans that now have access to broadband Internet infrastructure. That’s a great achievement. But it still leaves a lot of people — 10 million households, in fact — who need to be reached. These 10 million are those that have proved to be the most difficult and expensive to cover, by and large rural and isolated. The solution of wired networks, which works well for the majority, may become prohibitively expensive there. And that is exactly where other technologies, like terrestrial or satellite wireless networks, can step in. They can be the most cost-effective in such areas where more common, landline solutions are not an option.
I favor such a diversification of infrastructure for two reasons. First, although wireless technology does not have the same performance as advanced wired networks, it is good and getting better. Take satellites — we already see their value to the mobile and television industries, and they can provide a great contribution to deliver the important goal of basic broadband for all. This should not be underestimated. But the contribution of satellite services can also go further. With that clear mandate on basic broadband, the satellite industry will have an incentive to continue longer-term investment.
VIA SATELLITE: Are you a believer in the benefits of satellite technology now that new developments like Ka-band satellites are becoming available?
Kroes: Lots of investments for broadband deployment take place at the regional level, and structural funds are called upon to play an important role. What is important is to convince the regional policy makers that satellite offers can be a credible alternative to other solutions. We in the Commission have a role to play in raising awareness towards the various available solutions, and in providing guidelines towards deployment of infrastructures. But it is for the satellite industry to build the models that can successfully convince the local or national policy makers to deploy the technology. I think exciting times are ahead for satellite technology. The industry is already making good progress on the provision of broadband service offerings to the consumer.
From a more global perspective, I think that there is definitely a role for satellite in helping us to reach our broadband objectives. In the United States, satellite has been selected to connect about one percent of the households through the Rural Broadband program; in Australia, satellite has been selected to cover places beyond reach of terrestrial solutions; and in Canada, satellite is used to connect the Northern isolated territories. These examples show that there is clearly a role to play where broadband deployment is a policy issue, and Europe should not be any exception to that.
VIA SATELLITE: What do you see as the key policy issues for the EC in terms of bringing next-generation digital services throughout Europe? What is the main technology issue facing the EC?
Kroes: With the adoption of the communication “A Digital Agenda for Europe” in May 2010, the European Commission designed a strategy to maximize the social and economic potential of ICT, namely better healthcare, safer and more efficient transport solutions, a cleaner environment, new business opportunities and easier access to public services and cultural content. The seven pillars of the digital agenda are clustered around the key policy issues for bringing next-generation digital service throughout Europe: the achievement of the digital single market, bringing broadband to all, addressing the investment gap in research, bridging the digital skills gaps and addressing societal challenges. To reap the full benefits of ICT deployment in Europe, it will also be essential to tackle key technology issues like interoperability between devices, applications, data repositories, services and networks. One important means to that end is to ensure that good ICT standards are available and used, notably in public procurement and legislation. Another key technology issue is the rollout of high-speed networks.
VIA SATELLITE: What are the major policy decisions facing the EC in the next year?
Kroes: In 2012, discussions will focus on the key policy issues and challenges in order to deliver the Digital Agenda for Europe. To unlock the potential growth of the digital content market, the proposal for a Directive on Collective Rights Management as well as the review of the Directive on enforcement of IPR, addressing online piracy, are planned for adoption in the first half of 2012. Other key upcoming steps by the Commission for achieving the digital single market will focus on e-commerce and consumers’ trust.