The social challenge
The widespread availability of new information tools and services will
present fresh opportunities to build a more equal and balanced society and
to foster individual accomplishment. The information society has the
potential to improve the qua-lity of life of Europe's citizens, the
efficiency of our social and economic organisation and to reinforce
The information society has the potential to improve the quality of
life of Europe's citizens, the efficiency of our social and economic
organisation and to reinforce cohesion.
The information revolution prompts profound changes in the way we view
our societies and also in their organisation and structure. This presents
us with a major challenge: either we grasp the opportunities before us and
master the risks, or we bow to them, together with all the uncertainties
this may entail.
The main risk lies in the creation of a two-tier society of have and
have-nots, in which only a part of the population has access to the new
technology, is comfortable using it and can fully enjoy its benefits.
There is a danger that individuals will reject the new information culture
and its instruments.
Such a risk is inherent in the process of structural change. We must
confront it by convincing people that the new technologies hold out the
prospect of a major step forward towards a European society less subject
to such constraints as rigidity, inertia and compartmentalisation. By
pooling resources that have traditionally been separate, and indeed
distant, the information infrastructure unleashes unlimited potential for
acquiring knowledge, innovation and creativity.
Mastering risks, maximising benefits
Thus, we have to find ways to master the risks and maximise the
benefits. This places responsibilities on public authorities to establish
safeguards and to ensure the cohesion of the new society. Fair access to
the infrastructure will have to be guaranteed to all, as will provision of
universal service, the definition of which must evolve in line with the
A great deal of effort must be put into securing widespread public
acceptance and actual use of the new technology. Preparing Europeans for
the advent of the information society is a priority task. Education,
training and promotion will necessarily playa central role. The White
Paper's goal of giving European citizens the right to life-long education
and training here finds its full justification. In order best to raise
awareness, regional and local initiatives - whether public or private -
should be encouraged.
Preparing Europeans for the advent of the information society is a
priority task. Education, training and promotion will necessarily play a
The arrival of the information society comes in tandem with changes in
labour legislation and the rise of new professions and skills. Continuous
dialogue between the social partners will be extremely important if we are
to anticipate and to manage the imminent transformation of the work place.
This concerted effort should reflect new relationships at the work place
induced by the changing environment.
More detailed consideration of these issues exceeds the scope of this
Report. The Group wishes to stress that Europe is bound to change, and
that it is in our interest to seize this opportunity. The information
infrastructure can prove an extraordinary instrument for serving the
people of Europe and improving our society by fully reflecting the
original and often unique values which underpin and give meaning to our
At the end of the day, the added value brought by the new tools, and
the overall success of the information society, will depend on the input
made by our people, both individually and in working together. We are
convinced that Europeans will meet this challenge.
An Action Plan
This Report outlines our vision of the information society and the
benefits it will deliver to our citizens and to economic operators. It
points to areas in which action is needed now so we can start out on the
market-led passage to the new age, as well as to the agents which can
drive us there.
As requested in the Council's mandate, we advocate an Action Plan based
on specific initiatives involving partnerships linking public and private
sectors. Their objective is to stimulate markets so that they can rapidly
attain critical mass.
In this sector, private investment will be the driving force.
Monopolistic, anticompetitive environments are the real roadblocks to such
involvement. The situation here is completely different from that of other
infrastructural investments where public funds are still crucial, such as
This sector is in rapid evolution. The market will drive, it will
decide winners and losers. Given the power and pervasiveness of the
technology, this market is global.
The market will drive ... the prime task of government is to safeguard
The prime task of government is to safeguard competitive forces and
ensure a strong and lasting political welcome for the information society,
so that demand-pull can finance growth, here as elsewhere.
By sharing our vision, and appreciating its urgency, Europe's
decision-makers can make the prospects for our renewed economic and social
development infinitely brighter.
New markets in Europe's information society
Information has a multiplier effect which will energise every economic
sector. With market driven tariffs, there will be a vast array of novel
information services and applications:
Markets for business
- from high cost services, whose premium prices are justified by the
value of benefits delivered, to budget price products designed for
- from services to the business community, which can be tailored to
the needs of a specific customer, to standardised packages which will
sell in high volumes at low prices;
- from services and applications which employ existing infrastructure,
peripherals and equipment (telephone and cable TV networks,
broadcasting systems, personal computers, CD players and ordinary TV
sets) to those which will be carried via new technologies, such as
integrated broadband, as these are installed.
Large and small companies and professional users are already leading
the way in exploiting the new technologies to raise the efficiency of
their management and production systems. And more radical changes to
business organisation and methods are on the way.
Business awareness of these trends and opportunities is still lower in
Europe compared to the US. Companies are not yet fully exploiting the
potential for internal reorganisation and for adapting relationships with
suppliers, contractors and customers. We have a lot of pent up demand to
Business awareness of these trends and opportunities is still lower in
Europe compared to the US.
In the business markets, teleconferencing is one good example of a
business application worth promoting, while much effort is also being
dedicated worldwide to the perfection of telecommerce and electronic
document interchange (EDI).
Both offer such cost and time advantages over traditional methods that,
once applied, electronic procedures rapidly become the preferred way of
doing business. According to some estimates, handling an electronic
requisition is one tenth the cost of handling its paper equivalent, while
an electronic mail (e-mail) message is faster, more reliable and can save
95% of the cost of a fax.
Electronic payments systems are already ushering in the cashless
society in some parts of Europe. We have a sizeable lead over the rest of
the world in smart card technology and applications. This is an area of
global market potential.
Markets for small and medium sized enterprises
Though Europe's 12 million SMEs are rightly regarded as the backbone of
the European economy, they do need to manage both information and
managerial resources better.
They need to be linked to easy access, cost-effective networks
providing information on production and market openings. The
competitiveness of the whole industrial fabric would be sharpened if their
relationships with large companies were based on the new technologies.
Networked relationships with universities, research institutes and
laboratories would boost their prospects even more by helping to remedy
chronic R&D deficiencies. Networking will also diminish the isolation
of SMEs in Europe's less advantaged regions, helping them to upgrade their
products and find wider markets.
Markets for consumers
These are expected to be richly populated with services, from home
banking and teleshopping to a near-limitless choice of entertainment on
In Europe, like the United States, mass consumer markets may emerge as
one of the principal driving forces for the information society. American
experience already shows that the development markets encounters a number
of obstacles and uncertainties.
Given the initial high cost of new pay-per-view entertainment services,
and of the related equipment, as well as the high cost of bringing fibre
optics to the home, a large mass consumer market will develop more easily
if entertainment services are part of a broader package. This could also
include information data, cultural programming, sporting events, as well
as telemarketing and teleshopping. Pay-per-view for on-line services, as
well as advertising, will both be necessary as a source of revenue. To
some extent, existing satellite and telephone infrastructure can help to
serve the consumer market in the initial phase.
At the moment, this market is still only embryonic in Europe and is
likely to take longer to grow than in the United States. There, more than
60% of households are tapped by cable TV systems which could also carry
text and data services. In Europe, only 25% are similarly equipped, and
this figure masks great differences between countries, e.g. Belgium (92%)
and Greece (1-2%).
Another statistic: in the United States there are 34 PCs per hundred
citizens. The European figure overall is 10 per hundred, though the UK,
for instance, at 22 per hundred, is closer to the US level of computer
Lack of available information services and poor computer awareness
could therefore prove handicaps in Europe. Telecommunication networks are,
however, comparable in size and cover, but lag behind in terms of
utilisation. These networks, therefore, can act as the basic port of
access for the initial services, but stimulation of user applications is
still going to be necessary.
Such structural weaknesses need not halt progress. Europe's
technological success with CD-ROM and CD-I could be the basis for a raft
of non-networked applications and services during the early formative
years of the information society. These services on disk have considerable
export potential if Europe's audio-visual industry succeeds in countering
current US dominance in titles.
In terms of the market, France's Minitel network already
offers an encouraging example that European consumers are prepared to buy
information and transaction services on screen, if the access price is
right. It reaches nearly 30 million private and business subscribers
through six million small terminals and carries about 15,000 different
services. Minitel has created many new jobs, directly and indirectly,
through boosting business efficiency and competitiveness.
In the UK, the success of the Community-sponsored Homestead programme,
using CD-I, is indicative, as is the highly successful launch of (an
American) dedicated cable teleshopping channel.
Meanwhile in the US, where the consumer market is more advanced,
video-on-demand and home shopping could emerge as the most popular
Our biggest structural problem is the financial and organisational
weakness of the European programme industry. Despite the enormous richness
of the European heritage, and the potential of our creators, most of the
programmes and most of the stocks of acquired rights are not in European
hands. A fast growing European home market can provide European industry
with an opportunity to develop a home base and to exploit increased
possibilities for exports.
Linguistic fragmentation of the market has long been seen as a
disadvantage for Europe's entertainment and audio-visual industry,
especially with English having an overwhelming dominance in the global
market - a reflection of the US lead in production and, importantly, in
distribution. This lead, which starts with cinema and continues
withtelevision, is likely to be extended to the new audio-visual areas.
However, once products can be easily accessible to consumers, there will
be more opportunities for expression of the multiplicity of cultures and
languages in which Europe abounds.
...once products can be easily accessible to consumers, there will be
more opportunities for expression of the multiplicity of cultures and
languages in which Europe abounds.
Europe's audio-visual industry is also burdened with regulations. Some
of these will soon be rendered obsolete by the development of new
technologies, hampering the development of a dynamic European market.
As a first step to stimulating debate on the new challenges, the
Commission has produced a