Insights Digital infrastructures: European Commission publishes white paper


On 21 February 2024, the European Commission published “How to master Europe’s digital infrastructure needs”, a paper which analyses the challenges Europe faces in the rollout of future digital networks and presents possible scenarios to attract investment, foster innovation, increase security and achieve a true digital single market.

Challenges to the future of connectivity and its infrastructure include the need for new businesses models and network applications (e.g. the app economy, IoT, data analytics, AI and high quality video streaming) to have a continuous exponential increase in data processing, storage and transmission, the need for investment into the roll out of high-capacity digital networks, lack of a fully integrated single market for telecoms, lack of a level regulatory playing field and equivalent rights and obligations for all actors and end users of digital networks, the need for investment to enable digital technology to address global greenhouse gas emissions, and the need to develop security standards and a higher level of security and resilience of critical infrastructure.

New models of network and service provision involve a complex computing continuum of cloud, edge, content, software and component suppliers with boundaries increasingly being blurred between the various suppliers. Further, the transition from closed electronic communications networks to network-as-a-service models raises the prospect of large non-EU providers becoming leading players in such ecosystems.

Investment to the tune of €200b is needed in addition to potential new policy and regulation. With respect to mastering the transition to digital networks of the future, and to ensure a common approach to the innovation necessary to deliver next generation connectivity and computing, the Commission suggests, amongst other things, the creation of a community of European innovators, the “Connected Collaborative Computing” Network (“3C Network”), an ecosystem that spans semiconductors, computational capacity in all kinds of edge and cloud environments, radio technologies, connectivity infrastructure, data management and applications. This might take the form of large-scale pilots to set up end-to-end integrated infrastructures and platforms used to test innovative technologies and applications (focusing on e.g. 5G corridors, e-health and smart communities) to promote exchanges between the electronic communications sector and the broader computing industries with non-digital sectors.

Other suggestions include the acceleration of gigabit network deployment, coordination on spectrum regulation and the copper switch-off by 2023, a single telecoms market and the creation of a level playing field between the telco and cloud sectors.

The benefits of better connectivity that may be realised from the Commission’s proposed initiatives include safer and more energy efficient workspaces, cheaper and cleaner transport, better healthcare and a reduction in the digital environmental footprint.

The Commission has also published a Recommendation on the security and resilience of submarine cable infrastructures which presents a set of actions at national and EU level aimed at improving submarine cable security and resilience, and supporting the deployment or upgrades of such infrastructures.

These publications complement existing EU action taken to foster the transition of traditional connectivity networks towards the infrastructure of the future, such as the European Commission Consultation on the Electronic Communications Sector and Infrastructure, the results of which were published in October 2023 (previously reported by Wiggin) and the proposed Gigabit Infrastructure Act, on which political agreement was reached on 5 February 2024.

The Commission is seeking input on the 12 scenarios set out in the paper, which will be published in full and used to contribute to future policy actions.

For more information and to respond to the consultation, which closes on 30 June 2024, click here.