Editorial of October 2017


by Joana Covelo de Abreu, Junior Editor

Promotion of internet connectivity in local communities (“WIFI4EU” legislative framework): deepening European Digital Single Market through interoperability solutions

Digital Single Market has become a new political and constitutional calling for the EU since it can promote both economic growth and sustainable development.

Therefore, four researchers – which are, respectively, Editors and Junior Editors of this Blog (Alessandra Silveira, as Scientific Coordinator; Pedro Froufe; Joana Covelo de Abreu, as the responsible for the research deliverable; and Sophie Perez) – were awarded a Jean Monnet Project funding by the European Commission, concerning the theme “EU Digital Single Market as a political calling: interoperability as the way forward”, with the acronym “INTEROP”. This project, with a 2 years’ duration starting on September 2017, is settled on scientific research around administrative interoperable solutions in order to evolve and develop new juridical sensitivities that can rely on interoperable environments, especially concerning debt recovery in the European Union.

Taking into consideration new developments on administrative connectivity, last September 12th 2017, the European Parliament discussed and approved a European Resolution which endorses the necessary legislative alterations, settled on a new Regulation regarding the promotion of Internet connectivity in local communities, universally known as “WiFi4EU”. It will promote the installation of free Wi-Fi spots in public places, squares, municipalities’ facilities, libraries and hospitals. Carlos Zorrinho, a Portuguese Member of the European Parliament (MEP), was the Rapporteur of the resolution, and understood that this solution will promote “neutrality on internet access” despite the geographical location or the economic conditions of the user – “it does not discriminate no one and no territory”. Therefore, “WiFi4EU” is the embryo of the proclaimed European Gigabit Society.

In fact, this Regulation will provide necessary funding to public entities in order to install local wireless spots. It is estimated that until 2020 more than 6.000 public places will benefit with this initiative. It demands that those public entities – which will benefit from the funding – will secure free Wi-Fi services to citizens for, at least, three years.

Therefore, it aims to settle a more inclusive, open, transparent and close to people European Digital Society.

This resolution follows the trend of the Commission’s Communication of September 14th 2016 concerning “Connectivity for a Competitive Digital Single Market – Towards a European Gigabit Society” which clearly understood there was a need for high-performance internet connectivity in the Digital Single Market. In fact, the European Commission launched a public consultation on Internet speed and quality beyond 2020 and it clearly revealed there are high expectations on internet connectivity improvements until 2025, especially regarding downlink speed and responsiveness – which clearly states the attention on features other than download speed. These expectations have, already, a reflected effect on Member States’ national broadband plans.

And some strategic objectives were launched in order to be met in 2025; for instance, 1) to establish Gigabit connectivity for all main socio-economic drivers such as schools, transport hubs and main providers of public services as well as digitally intensive enterprises; 2) to have uninterrupted 5G coverage in all urban areas and all major terrestrial transport paths; 3) to enlarge access to internet connectivity to all European households, rural and urban; 4) to adopt a Code where the regulatory framework is thought and well fitted to connectivity…

Furthermore, in July 2017, the European Parliament presented “The European Commission at mid-term: State of play of President Juncker’s ten priorities”. On this document, the European Parliament reflects on Commission’s priorities and how they are being met.

Concerning “Priority 2: A connected digital single market”, the European Parliament understands Europe needs to “overcome legislative fragmentation”, to “offer European Union consumers an improved product by removing online barriers, and help businesses expand their online sales” since “success depends on the creation of a fully integrated digital single market (DSM)”.

Therefore, a new regulation of cross-border portability was adopted after June 2017 to enable consumers to access their online subscriptions for content services when they travel across the EU. Also, a legislative package for further harmonization of copyright rules and to adapt them to a digital environment was presented by the Commission as both the European Parliament and the Council are devoted to meet an agreement on those matters, despite they were already able to reach an agreement on EU copyright law’s modification concerning an easier access to published works for people who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled. But the Commission also presented proposals concerning e-commerce, simplified VAT rules, geo-blocking issues, which are being scrutinized under the ordinary legislative procedure.

So far, this Priority 2 legislative concretization is presented based on the following numbers: the European Commission already delivered 30 initiatives of the 31 it had announced and, concerning legislation requested by the European Parliament, there were 2. So far, 11 proposed legislation were adopted; 3 are close to being adopted; and just 1 was withdrawn and another 1 was blocked.

Taking into consideration these developments, it is going to be promoted an informal academic meeting next October 20th 2017, at 3:30 pm, in the Law School of the University of Minho, where the status quo and the state of the art concerning the administrative interoperability will be discussed. It is an initiative with the institutional support of the Portuguese Representation of the European Parliament, where both MEP’s Carlos Zorrinho and José Manuel Fernandes are going to participate. It was thought in order to achieve INTEROP milestones and deliverables.

It will promote a scientific discussion with European policy makers, who will set the tone; in the audience, there will be researchers from different areas of expertise – IT, Law, Social Sciences and Social Media, Geography, Public Administration –, Public Administration’s agents, Judicial Power’s representatives, Stakeholders and Economic Private agents, who will act and intervene as discussants, posing scientific doubts concerning their own areas of specialization and action.

It is open to all the academic environment, in order to propitiate a more honest and proficient debate.

Academia has to set the tone and be engaged with this realities – however, only public discussion and engagement will be the key to understand how and why Digital Agenda has become, in the European Union, a goal set by the political power and that has to be observed by Public Administrations and that will reverberate to every citizens’ routine.

Picture credits: wifi zone by Banalities.

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