A Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe

Creating the right conditions and a level playing field for advanced digital networks and innovative services to flourish (official)

The Digital Single Market must be built on reliable, trustworthy, high-speed, affordable networks and services that safeguard consumers’ fundamental rights to privacy and personal data protection while also encouraging innovation. This requires a strong, competitive and dynamic telecoms sector to carry out the necessary investments, to exploit innovations such as Cloud computing, Big Data tools or the Internet of Things. The market power of some online platforms potentially raises concerns, particularly in relation to the most powerful platforms whose importance for other market participants is becoming increasingly critical.

Today, the telecommunications sector is the backbone of digital products and services which have the potential to support all aspects of (human) lives, and drive Europe’s economic recovery. The Commission aims to create a genuine single market for electronic communications. A competitive market triggers investment. A fundamental issue for the completion of the Digital Single Market is the need for greater regulatory simplification and for proportionate regulation in those areas where infrastructure competition has emerged at regional or national scale. Telecoms operators compete with “Over-the-top” services and platforms such as “VoIP” (voice calls conveyed over the Internet) and messaging which are increasingly used by end-users as substitutes for traditional electronic communications services such as voice telephony and SMS, without being subject to the same regulatory regime. It is necessary to design a fair and future-proof regulatory environment for all services and to decide what level of regulation is needed.

The principle, enshrined in the e-Commerce Directive, that Internet intermediary service providers should not be liable for the content that they transmit, store or host, as long as they act in a strictly passive manner has underpinned the development of the Internet in Europe. At the same time when illegal content is identified, whether it be information related to illegal activities such as terrorism/child pornography or information that infringes the property rights of others (e.g. copyright), intermediaries should take effective action to remove it. Today the disabling of access to and the removal of illegal content by providers of hosting services can be slow and complicated, while content that is actually legal can be taken down erroneously. 52.7% of stakeholders say that action against illegal content is often ineffective and lacks transparency. Differences in national practices can impede enforcement (with a detrimental effect on the fight against online crime) and undermine confidence in the online world. As the amount of digital content available on the Internet grows, current arrangements are likely to be increasingly tested. It is not always easy to define the limits on what intermediaries can do with the content that they transmit, store or host before losing the possibility to benefit from the exemptions from liability set out in the e-Commerce Directive.

Recent events have added to the public debate on whether to enhance the overall level of protection from illegal material on the Internet. In tandem with its assessment of online platforms, the Commission will analyse the need for new measures to tackle illegal content on the Internet, with due regard to their impact on the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information, such as rigorous procedures for removing illegal content while avoiding the take down of legal content, and whether to require intermediaries to exercise greater responsibility and due diligence in the way they manage their networks and systems – a duty of care.

The Commission will launch before the end of 2015 a comprehensive assessment of the role of platforms, including in the sharing economy, and of online intermediaries, which will cover issues such as (i) transparency e.g. in search results (involving paid for links and/or advertisement), (ii) platforms’ usage of the information they collect, (iii) relations between platforms and suppliers, (iv) constraints on the ability of individuals and businesses to move from one platform to another and will analyse, (v) how best to tackle illegal content on the Internet.

Maximising the growth potential of the Digital Economy

Within less than a decade, most economic activity will depend on digital ecosystems, integrating digital infrastructure, hardware and software, applications and particularly data.

Building a Data economy

Data is often considered as the “oil of the modern economy”, a catalyst for economic growth and innovation across all sectors of the European economy and for the society as a whole. The generation, collection and aggregation of large sets of information create new value and potential for consumers, firms and public authorities.