During the three-hour hearing on Thursday, Ms Kroes set out what she saw as the key building blocks for progress in this new area of responsibility: Europe should invest more in development of information and communication technologies (ICT) and extend infrastructure to provide safe and secure 100% broadband access. Citizens should improve their computer skills, while the public sector should practice open standards – but the crucial task remains creating a truly single online market.
Internet neutrality - a cornerstone concept
Several MEPs, including Marita Ulvskog (S&D, SE), Lena Ek (ALDE, SE) and Philippe Lamberts (Greens/EFA, BE), asked the commissioner-designate about net neutrality. Ms Kroes replied that Commission shares the support of the concept and will protect it. The core issue is that internet providers "shouldn't be allowed to limit the access to service or content out of commercial motivation but only in cases of security issues and spamming". She also stressed that any attempts to stifle discontent in cyberspace, as it is the recent case of Google in China, would be a clear violation of freedom of expression.
Single European online market in 5 years?
Replying to Pilar del Castillo Vera (EPP, ES) on her priorities in setting up the single online market, Ms Kroes emphasised that "it is not a goal in itself, but the means to make changes". By bringing together different stakeholders - industry, users and regulators - she hopes it will be achieved by the end of her mandate.
Catherine Trautmann (S&D, FR) wanted more detail on potential EU industrial policy in the area. Ms Kroes' said: "If you call it industry, then I'm your friend. We need 100% broadband availability because it will improve competitiveness and bring an excellent opportunity to create jobs, higher productivity and economic growth."
Balance between citizens' rights and cyber security
Ivailo Kalfin (S&D, BG) elaborated on some other MEPs’ questions about the regulation of cyberspace and asked if she intends to create an office of EU cyberspace regulator, working with national counterparts in the Member States. Ms Kroes said she was aware of the scope of cybercrime, which was not limited by borders, and that she wanted Europe to become the safest place for internet consumers, but she was not keen on the idea of an EU cyberspace regulator and preferred more cooperation and a stronger role for ENISA, the European Network and Information Security Agency.
The related issue of intellectual property rights was raised by Antonio Cancian (EPP, IT). Ms Kroes was, she said, aware of its sensitivity and warned that European legislation about it is still a patchwork of national rules: "Copyright is important for economy and culture, people deserve its protection, but no proper action is possible while there is no single market."
Digital dividend shouldn't widen the digital divide
Gunnar Hökmark (EPP, SE) asked about the allocation of the radio-frequency spectrum after the switch from analogue to digital television broadcasting in 2012. According to Ms Kroes, dividing the new digital dividend should be a big opportunity "to push development, single market and harmonisation, providing better quality and more choice." Actions of the Member States should be coordinated and one of the elements was also the Parliament's initiative to hold a spectrum summit, she said.
Vladimír Remek (GUE/NGL, CZ) warned that new technologies should also be available to low income households, the disabled and the elderly, to which the candidate agreed: "We are not living anymore just with networks and digital media, but in them. I would really regret if we would be losing a generation - we should give them a hand, because there are plenty of opportunities opening up." She also said, in an answer to Mr Lamberts, that she will do her best with the colleagues in the Commission to accelerate the positive impact of ICT on everyday life in areas like health, culture, trade, economy and energy.
No "roaming 3" regulation on the horizon - yet
Paul Rübig (EPP, AT) and Angelika Niebler (EPP, DE) were keen to get more information on possible new regulation which would further lower the prices of mobile roaming. Ms Kroes said that "it would be ideal if there would be a single EU roaming market without borders", but wasn't sure if that could happen by the end of her mandate.
She concluded that her decisions about new legislation would be based on the interim review and follow-up report. If they were to show that the market does not work properly, she would act. But in the first place it should be "up to the market to do the job", she said.