European Parliament calls for superfast broadband

Consumer rights are set to take centre stage in a new digital agenda for Europe overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers.

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The European Parliament has approved a new digital strategy targeting widespread roll out of superfast internet services across the continent over the next five years, and proposing a European charter of consumer rights in the digital environment.

The strategy calls for every EU household to have access to broadband internet at a "competitive price" by 2013, and aims to ensure that three quarters of mobile subscribers are 3G users by 2015.

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On an individual level, the resolution said widespread training was needed so all Europeans could participate fully in a digital society, and their rights should be laid out in a clear legal framework that provided meaningful protection to rights-holders while also safeguarding personal data.

"The train towards the digital society is an extremely high speed one with no stops; the EU must be on board," Spanish rapporteur Pilar del Castillo Vera said ahead of the strategy's approval by a large majority. "The wellfunctioning of the digital economy is imperative for the wellfunctioning of the entire EU economy. However, the free movement of digital services is today severely hindered by fragmented rules at national level."

Other ambitious targets set by include 50 per cent of households having access to super-fast internet by 2015, and 100 per cent by 2020, while all primary and secondary schools should have reliable internet access by 2013, and high-speed connections by 2015.

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In addition, the strategy stated that "ICT training and e-learning should become an integral part of lifelong learning activities, enabling better and accessible education and training programmes".

The strategy called for a charter of rights to be in place by 2012, and a broader Cyber crime Convention to be up and running by 2015. MEPs said it is crucial to find "a fair balance between the right-holders' rights and the general public's access to content and knowledge", adding that special protection from cyber crime should be given to minors and young adults.

"Europe will only reap the benefits of [the] digital revolution if all EU citizens are mobilised and empowered to participate fully in the new digital society," said a statement accompanying the strategy's unveiling. "This requires confidence by investors to make long term commitments, confidence by governments to move more strongly to e-government and confidence by citizens to use the digital services."

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"A prerequisite for the creation of a European knowledge society is that all users have access to resilient and reliable wired and wireless broadband networks."

With Parliament endorsing the plan, the spotlight now shifts to the European Commission, which will be responsible for making the strategy a reality.

The UK's own digital agenda played a major role in the build-up to last week's election. Labour has committed to providing 90 per cent of UK homes with ultra-fast broadband and 100 per cent coverage by 2020, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats having their own similar strategies.

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