miércoles, 24 de junio de 2015

Tackling the #digital divide in the #DigitalSingleMarket

Inequality is one of the greatest risk for the preservation of our society model. Not only Piketty has warned us about the continuous growth of it, the OECD has published several reports on the matter in the last years. Therefore, it should be an obligation of policy makers to think about the matter in the design of any kind policy and look how it can contribute to decrease inequality. From a digital policy perspective, this would mean to put an special focus on bridging the digital divide

It is worrisome that "A Digital Single Market strategy for Europe" has dedicated few measures for building a more inclusive Digital Union. Less than a page on the communication is dedicated to describe the planned measures for building "A inclusive e-society" and a mention about the need to extend broadband coverage in the rural areas but without any concrete measure. Is an eGovernment Action Plan the only concrete measure that the European Commission can offer to bridge the digital divide?

To begin with the extension on broadband coverage in rural areas, it looks that the intention of the European Commission is to include broadband as a part of the universal service. The changes of the funding to finance this change in the universal service are not described so it is difficult to judge the fairness of the proposal. For instance, if Member States are allowed to fund it through an special tax on internet access service it could have the effect on increasing the digital divide due to the increase of the tariffs. A more effective a progressive manner to increase the coverage of broadband in rural areas could be relaxing the guidelines for considering illegal a state aid for the deployment of broadband infrastructure. 

One of the key factors of the digital divide is digital illiteracy. It has a direct impact on the job opportunities and the access to knowledge and leisure. Although the European Commission recognises the importance of the addressing the lack of digital skills, no concrete measure is described. It does not look enough the intention of tackling the issue in any future action on skills and training. At least an independent assessment of the impact of the actions currently under development like the "Grand Coalition for digital jobs" should have been clearly pointed, as well as a more stronger push for reviewing the curricula by Member States

The digital divide concept is also fully applicable to companies. It is especially worrisome the growing gap between big companies and SMEs in digital transformation. The continuation of this trend will mean on the medium term the disappearance of SMEs and all the associated jobs. However, there are not concrete measures focused on bridging this gap. It looks that only by addressing the fragmentation of the EU digital market magically the SMEs would reap the benefits of the digital economy. Maybe SMEs would have the access to more affordable data infrastructures by replacing the 28 national markets with the single market, but concrete plans for financing its digital transformation are missing in the European Commission strategy.

According with the OECD, the rise in inequality observed between 1985 and 2005 in 19 OECD countries knocked 4.7 percentage points off cumulative growth between 1990 and 2010. As the digital element of the economy grows, the digital divide is having a bigger impact in the rise of inequality. Therefore, the growth of Europe lies in its ability to tackle the digital divide within its digital strategy. We cannot afford leaving any European behind in the digital transformation.



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