Brussels, 12 February 2002
The European Commission has adopted the 2002 "eEurope Benchmarking Report", a communication providing a detailed snapshot of the development of the European Information Society since the Lisbon Summit in March 2000.
"Europe will not achieve its aim of becoming a world leader in the Information Society without constantly assessing how far we have come, and how far we have to go," said Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for the Information Society.
The eEurope Benchmarking exercise analyses data from across Europe on key indicators, ranging from the price of an internet connection to the number of connected schools. The findings are that the eEurope Action Plan has helped increase the number of connected households, schools and business, but that the rate of growth is slowing. Broadband uptake, moreover, is still sluggish, generally expensive and limited to two platforms. The growth of e-commerce is also slowing, while the number of security problems grows.
The 2000 Lisbon Summit, which called for the EU to become the most dynamic, knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, led to the eEurope Action Plan 2002. Benchmarking is a key component of the Action Plan, as it highlights best practices from across the continent and points the way forward for European policy.
The eEurope Benchmarking Report 2002 is therefore a key input into the Barcelona European Council in March, where progress towards the Lisbon target will be assessed and new priorities will be identified.
Key findings include:
The take-up of the internet in European households has increased rapidly from 18% in March 2000 to 28% in October 2000, 36% in June 2001 and 38% in December 2001. Rates vary significantly across the EU, from 60% (Scandinavia, the Netherlands) to 10% (Greece), leading to a potential North-South 'digital divide'. This recent plateau in growth could be caused by the former countries reaching saturation, added to the fact that the availability of PCs in households acts as a natural ceiling in the absence of internet access through TV sets and mobile devices.
Efforts to increase internet use in countries well below the EU average are therefore needed, as is the development of alternative access platforms.
eEurope has been successful in driving down internet connection costs through encouraging competition. However, this has only affected dial-up connection costs. Broadband has generally remained expensive, with citizens limited to choosing between two platforms (ADSL or cable) from a limited number of suppliers. As a result, broadband penetration in the EU (6%) falls far behind the leaders (Korea, Canada and the US).
The adoption last December of the new regulatory framework provides Europe with a strong legislative basis to increase competition and stimulate growth in the broadband market. "However, more needs to be done" said Erkki Liikanen. "Broadband is the essential physical infrastructure of the knowledge society. Affordable and widely accessible broadband is crucial if Europe is to meet the Lisbon target, and so will be a central point for the upcoming informal Telecom Council in Vitoria and the Barcelona European Council," he said. "The Commission believes that a technology-neutral approach, where the user chooses from an open marketplace, should be central to a new European broadband strategy. We need to develop this strategy as soon as possible."
Growth in both consumer and corporate e-commerce has been slower than expected. Only 4% of users classify themselves as frequent online purchasers, although the report does show an unexpected surge of peer-to-peer e-commerce. Again, there is a North/South split in the use of the internet for buying online.
Similarly, only around 20% of European companies buy and sell online, with larger companies dominating, which means that small European companies are not yet taking advantage of e-commerce within the Single Market.
With the adoption of 'always on' broadband networks, the need for security is becoming paramount. The report shows an increase in virus attacks, while the number of secure servers per capita for electronic commerce is still 50% of the US average.
The report confirms high interest in eGovernment, with nearly half of EU internet users visiting government sites. It also finds that under 10% have actually interacted with their administration electronically most can only download documents.
The eEurope target - 100% of basic services on-line by the end of 2002 will require substantial efforts by Member States, as the overall average range from almost 70% (Ireland) to under 20% (Luxembourg).
National Research Networks:
Significant progress has recently been made in boosting Europe's research networks with the GEANT Network. Created by the Commission and national research and education networks, GEANT reached a maximum speed of 10 Gigabit/s last December, making it the fastest research network in the world, offering the widest geographic coverage - 32 countries, including all Candidate countries.
It has created high-speed interconnections between over 3000 research and educational institutions across Europe. The US's Internet2 initiative, by comparison, connects about 200.
Apart from placing the world's best research network in the hands of Europe's scientists, GEANT will provide a unique experimental platform for the development of the next generation internet. While almost all countries have improved their access capacities to the GEANT network, however, disparities between Member States remain high.
Overall, the report states that while the eEurope Action Plan 2002 was a successful short-term tool to get Europe online quickly, just being connected is not enough to achieve the Lisbon target. A new focus on effective usage of the Internet is required to bring the benefits of the Information Society to European society.
Among other recommendations, the report also calls for:
Concerted action to close the 'internet penetration gap' and the 'digital divides' which threaten Europe's social cohesion in the new century;
An urgent review of the obstacles to e-commerce;
The integration of the Internet into schooling, not just schools;
The creation of the cyber security task force to tackle security issues and internet crime;
Full integration of Candidate Countries into the eEurope process.
DN: IP/02/225 Date: 12/02/2002
DN: IP/02/225 Date: 12/02/2002