Steely Neelie's FTTX Face Off
10:55 AM -- Whatever the outcome, someone's going to lose. "Steely" Neelie Kroes, vice-president for the Digital Agenda at the European Commission , is weighing up her options on how to make her broadband plan (at least 30 Mbit/s for every citizen by 2020) a reality rather than just a pipe dream. (See Europe's Broadband Challenge.)
Every indication from the past few days is that she's going to be presiding over a major scrap that has "La neutralité de l'Internet" winding up the punches. (See Euronews: FTTX Players Need Incentives and Euronews: Big Three Take Swipe at Net Neutrality.)
Going on previous form, Kroes (already regarded as a living legend by EuroBlog) will put the interests of the European Union's 500 million residents first and the interests of businesses and pressure groups second. The problem is, unless she pleases a key set of those business and pressure groups, quite a few of those EU citizens might get trapped on the wrong side of the digital divide.
As ever, the key stumbling block is investment -- hundreds of billions of euros of investment during the next eight or so years. The network operators with the capital and wherewithal to build next-generation broadband networks -- we're talking fiber-to-the-whatever here -- won't invest heavily without some assurances around the use of their networks, particularly by the so-called "over-the-top" players such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) and Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX).
Kroes knows the ground. In a statement yesterday she noted that there isn't a consensus among the interested parties and that she will be examining every document and idea thrown her way during discussions held during the past few months.
Well, here's an idea. Take a look at Australia and Singapore. Those countries have decided that the best way to build a truly digital economy, where everyone can get a broadband connection and gain access to a multitude of services on an open access basis, is to build a single high-speed network that can be used by all retail service providers. It costs a lot of money and it involves a great deal of pain for the incumbents, but it's happening. And in a few years, Australia and Singapore will reap the benefits of being true 21st century economies. (See Australia Preps Digital Economy Strategy, Australia Clears NBN Hurdle and Singapore Makes FTTH Strides .)
Any country, with enough political will, can achieve this. Of course there's money involved too and the European Union is suffering from a number of well publicized economic difficulties currently, especially in Greece, Ireland and Portugal, while even major economies such as Italy are wavering.
But have you noticed how much money is always instantly available every time a conflict brews? It seems the budgets for vital resources such as education, health and domestic security can be considered for the chop but there's always cash available for weapons from a seemingly bottomless pit of cash.
If warheads can be funded, then so can open access broadband networks. It just takes some hard-nosed commitment and rigid political will to want the best for the region and to empower the populace.
So, how badly does the European Union want to be a truly digital economy? We'll see. I suspect it won't want it badly enough and it won't be the fault of Kroes. As usual, though, the interest of large business will win out while regular residents -- ironically, the people that ultimately fund those big businesses by paying their communications and entertainment bills -- will lose out.
C'est la guerre.
— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading