I am sure readers of the Highland News will agree with me when I say that the internet and digital technologies have transformed the lives we live and the way we work – as individuals, in business, and in our communities.
These changes are happening at a scale and speed that bring great opportunities for innovation, growth and jobs but such a transformation also brings with it many problems that all member states of the EU are wrestling with. To address many of these concerns the European level offers the right framework and is why the European Commission is developing plans for a Digital Single Market strategy for Europe. To achieve this however there are issues concerning telecoms regulation, copyright, data protection and the management of radio waves and competition law that must be addressed.
For European citizens the rewards include using mobile phones without roaming charges and accessing music, movies and sports events on electronic devices anywhere in Europe. For businesses it will mean a level playing field for offering their goods or services in the EU by making them all subject to the same data protection and consumer rules, regardless of where their server is based.
At present citizens are finding that barriers online mean they miss out on many goods and services - only 15% of us shop online from another EU country. This means consumers and businesses are not fully benefitting. The aim of the Digital Single Market is to tear down regulatory walls and finally move from 28 national markets to a single one and, it is estimated, contribute €415 billion per year to the European economy.
This month (January) the European Parliament voted for a report responding to the Commission's Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy. Specifically it focused on online purchasing, transactions, and cross border parcel delivery. ‘Geo-blocking’ is the prevention of consumers’ online access to goods and services on the basis of their IP address, postal address or the country of issue of credit cards and the report insisted that it must be stopped.
Labour MEPs believe that while the digital revolution is generally positive, creating the potential for millions of new skilled jobs across Europe and new opportunities for consumers, we must also not be blind to the negative impacts of these changes, in particular the gaps in social and employment issues like the increasing casual nature of work in the parcel delivery sector. We must also ensure that the high level of consumer protection that has been fought for is also true when purchasing in other countries.
Labour MEPs are also concerned about digital skills and public investment and welcomed that the report called on the Commission to address the need for everyone to have the right to access superfast broadband.
We need to ensure the digital economy does not leave behind people in certain workplaces, and in rural or remote communities. All EU countries, including the UK, must invest more in superfast broadband, and roll it out quicker and wider.