Let's face it. The Electronic Communications Regulatory Framework doesn't sound that exciting. The fact that the European Commission just launched a review of it even less. But it does matter - let me try to explain why.
Think about every time you communicate electronically: every e-mail, every text, every Snapchat and WhatsApp. Think of the start-up that wrote the app on your smartphone. The company that designed and built the smartphone you installed it on. And the engineers that laid the pylons and transmitters keeping it all connected. The convenience of being able to talk to friends or do business, at home, in the office or on the move, relied on a great communications industry - which we are lucky to have in Europe.
And a healthy, thriving communications industry depends on having the right set of rules. These can not - and should not - be rules dictating every little thing - but rather the sensible guidelines to allow different parts of the industry to deal effectively with each other - so all the pieces of the puzzle: infrastructure, technology and devices can fit together. That's what the Electronic Communications Regulatory Framework is for. The rules have to be clear, but also updated to reflect the reality of the technology that's exploded into our lives in the last few years.
The Framework came in the 1990s - but we've moved on since the days of landlines and faxes. The UK has been at the forefront of this change: fibre cables now provide superfast and ultrafast broadband speeds; increased competition has seen a huge variety in mobile providers and the internet has become synonymous with watching TV shows and online shopping - where before it was half loaded images and pages of text.
Not only has this been great for us as individuals, but it has been hugely beneficial for the economy and jobs. Between 2008 and 2013, the sector in the UK grew more than seven times faster than the economy as a whole. It is now Europe's largest digital sector. It is worth £113 billion to the UK economy, supporting more than 1.3 million UK jobs - around four per cent of the total workforce - and in 2014 it created more than 192,000 new digital enterprises in the UK.
The Electronic Communications Regulatory Framework has enabled the EU to keep pace with all this change - but only just. Now we need to make sure that that system is not past its sell by date. But we want the industry as a whole to keep moving: we want 5G phones, ultrafast broadband speeds and we want new digital companies to keeping springing up across the UK.
We have written to the European Commission setting out how we think it can maximise the benefits to both consumer and industry in the UK and across Europe. The UK is leading from the front- and we're championing a framework which:
- supports investment and innovation - giving businesses the confidence to invest in the latest technologies;
- encourages competition between firms to create the best products to deliver the desired outcomes, rather than prescriptive rules;
- making sure providers are focussed on the products and services that consumers and businesses need - even as these continue to change
- guarantees no-one is locked out - ensuring everyone has a decent connection to the internet;
- empowers and protects us all through greater transparency and awareness of services, and safeguards consumer privacy and use of their data; and
- recognises the balance between what is the responsibility of the Commission and what is for individual Member States to determine for themselves.
The Prime Minister has been clear that the EU has a huge potential to deliver jobs and growth - but only if it keeps pace with the reform our growing and transforming economy needs. This is exactly the kind of change he is talking about - updating EU rules so they work for European business and consumers now - not how they once were, or how someone might have once imagined they ought to be. This is why the UK is taking a leading role in steering this debate, to champion changes that will benefit citizens and businesses across the whole of Europe - and not just the UK.