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Liikanen pledges EU support for the communications revolution

The 'communications revolution' in Europe has the potential to transform society but this can only continue if policy-makers keep pace with new developments in the telecommunications field, said European Commissioner Erkki Liikanen at the Telecom 99 Conference in Geneva on 10 ...
The 'communications revolution' in Europe has the potential to transform society but this can only continue if policy-makers keep pace with new developments in the telecommunications field, said European Commissioner Erkki Liikanen at the Telecom 99 Conference in Geneva on 10 October 1999.

The Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society was speaking about the EU's response to the rapidly changing telecommunications industry. Mr Liikanen said the 'powerful combination' of digital technologies and liberalisation in telecommunications policy have reinforced each other, making the telecommunications industry one of the strongest in the world, driving growth in the rest of the economy. Sustaining this 'new' society will depend on the EU developing a policy framework that enables industry to exploit these opportunities.

'The unique impact of the telecommunications sector is its role in the transformation of the economy and society as a whole', he said. 'We are witnesses of and actors in the transition from an industrial society, based on mass production, towards an Information Society, which is characterised by globalisation and mobility.'

Since liberalisation began in 1987, Europe has witnessed an explosion in Internet technologies and mobile communications, and now third generation mobile telephony looks set to build on their success. 'I am encouraged that as a result of the IMT-2000 process, a global solution to third generation looks likely. This would be a massive achievement, with major economic benefits,' he said.

Although European liberalisation has been successful, Mr Liikanen said there are still three areas requiring work. Firstly, the Commission and Member States will examine introducing pro-competitive measures to reduce tariffs for leased lines. Secondly, dominance in local access networks by some incumbents will be reviewed, and thirdly attempts will be made to harmonise the degree of competition between Member States.

Mr Liikanen pledged to reduce red tape to make operators free to innovate, while protecting consumers and guaranteeing a minimum level of service to the more disadvantaged in society. 'The European Commission will later this month issue a policy document that will suggest policy orientations to address the shortcomings', he said, and it will then invite national authorities, market players and other interested bodies to submit suggestions.

On the global stage, liberalisation is also needed, and although substantial progress has been made though WTO and GATS agreements, Mr Liikanen said the European Commission 'would like to obtain more and better commitments from WTO members'. Furthermore the Commission would like to see the scale of the telecoms agreement extended to the other hundred ITU members who have not yet signed it.

Developing countries should not be excluded from these benefits he said, and Mr Liikanen pledged EU support in helping countries implement the necessary legal and institutional framework for liberalisation.

Mr Liikanen finished his speech by issuing a global request. He said to achieve a global Information Society 'we still need to undertake courageous policy measures'. He said the European Commission is 'prepared to deliver this response' and called on the international community to respond.

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