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The Digital Single Market strategy for Europe - June 2015

Catherine Stihler MEP

The Commission's 16 proposals to be delivered in the next five years are a step in the right direction in addressing the problems consumers and businesses face in accessing the digital single market. But it is by no means a silver bullet.

The European Commission recently presented their long awaited Digital Single Market strategy.

The Commission's 16 proposals to be delivered in the next five years are a step in the right direction in addressing the problems consumers and businesses face in accessing the digital single market. But it is by no means a silver bullet.

Whilst lacking any concrete legislative proposals in its current form, we hope to see regulatory action proposed by the Commission in the very near future.

Scots in rural areas suffering from inefficient parcel delivery services and poor broadband speeds will be amongst those to benefit from the strategy. It has the potential to be a success
story with crucial initiatives addressed at SMEs, big business and consumers.

For businesses, harmonised and simpler cross-border rules on e-commerce will be a big boost and for consumers the simpler, clearer rules as well as no price discrimination based
on geographical location will be a welcome move.

The strategy also includes plans to ensure digital content is available cross-border, so Scots will be able to watch the likes of Netflix and iPlayer while on holiday.

I am particularly pleased to see the Commission take a strong stance on network coverage setting the standard much higher than the UK Government announced it plans to. This would
see rural areas in Scotland have the best coverage they have ever seen.

We also have problems in Scotland with those in rural areas and the islanders facing more expensive delivery costs, by tackling this issue on a cross-border level it means it will not
be possible to charge extra within the same country.

What we need to do now is take action to end the digital divide. The strategy talks about improving digital skills and expertise, rightfully so, as the EU has a growing deficit of ICT
professional skills, forecast to reach 900,000 by 2020.

Digital skills are key but 12% of Scottish schools are without a computing teacher and there has been a 14% drop in the number of computer science teachers in Scottish schools between 2012 and 2014, a time when we need them most.

We need to close the digital skills gap as a priority and this is action which needs to be taken by our governments who form our education systems. I hope to see our politicians in
Holyrood and Westminster take this seriously and create a plan of action.

My Open Knowledge campaign aims to ensure fair access to ebooks in public libraries across
Scotland. When I first wrote to each local authority 18 months ago to ask about e-book provision, the level of service ranged from the best in Europe to none at all.

Things may have moved forward since then, however, as recently as last year I visited a library in a deprived area of Scotland where no internet was available in the public library. As a result people were being told to use the free wifi in a nearby fast food outlet.

Almost half of the EU population (47%) are not properly digitally skilled and yet in the not too distant future 90% of jobs will require digital knowhow.

Why does the strategy not mention anywhere that 20% of EU population has never used the Internet? This figure comes from the Commissions' own research just last year.

Accessibility is key if we want to create a digital Europe, yet three most important reasons for households not having internet access are that it is not needed (49%), due to a lack of skills (37%) and because the equipment (30%) and access (26%) costs are too high. For families with children and low income households, costs are particularly important.

Key to the whole Europe-wide strategy is engagement of the Member States. Having the former Estonian Prime Minister lead the agenda is helpful, but how will the Commission ensure all 28 Member States help deliver on the proposals? Member States' leadership will determine the success or failure. Otherwise the strategy could end up as nothing but a pipe dream.

The strategy recognises that boosting the digital economy through digitalisation of industry and the creation of single EU standardisation strategies will accelerate digital processes and improve interoperability; as well as making the telecoms rules fit for purpose.

Scotland Europa