Brussels  — Just a month after an OECD report calling on Europe to boost productivity, CCIA and EDiMA released a report illustrating untapped potential of the Internet that could do just that. Brian Williamson of Plum Consulting presented his study ahead of a panel discussions at the CCIA/EDiMA hosted event at the Residential Palace Tuesday.

Williamson showed that how you use the Internet is key to productivity growth and therefore to a country’s economic success. The EU used to invest more in ICT than the US and had higher productivity gains than anyone else up until 1995. From the beginning of the Internet era the US has had stronger productivity gains from ICT.

But there are bright spots even so. Within Europe some countries, like Latvia and Estonia, have excelled at taking advantage of the Internet.

Williamson said one barrier is that ministers are responsible for vertical silos so creating a minister to integrate digital throughout the economy is one idea he has heard that could help.

Lucilla Sioli, Head of Knowledge Base, DG CNECT at European Commission, said that the Internet revolution is taking place and education, telemedicine and retail are being transformed.  But she added that for EU companies to flourish, steps toward a digital single market must be taken.

European Parliament member Vicky Ford said it’s important as Europe transitions to a digital single market that retailers are not forced to offer every product in every market, but that she doesn’t want  to see consumers face discrimination according to geography.  Another real issue to address, she said, involve access to video content. She said it’s frustrating for sports fans that they can’t watch the Cricket World Cup in Brussels.

As for the much-awaited Digital Single Market strategy to be released in May, Ford said it must make it easier for businesses to operate.  She said a robust Internet infrastructure is critical and that she hope progress will be made on net neutrality, roaming and consumer transparency.

During the following panel, European Parliament member Marietje Schaake, said one problem is that everyone says they want a unified European system, but if each of the 28 nations “wants it to be based on their own system, then we’re never going to get anywhere.”

Chris Sherwood, head of public policy for Allegro Group, said that there are deliberate tactics by many brands to segment markets and we should break those barriers down.

John Midgley, director of government affairs for Intuit, said it is difficult to identify the levers that drive progress in the digital economy because it’s so pervasive throughout the market. But he said watching for barriers to digital adoption will be important for policymakers and also ensuring regulations are not too cumbersome. “The amount of time to store data and where to keep that data are very real challenges for businesses – especially depending on their size.”

British balloon pilot Mike Jennings, says he is able to promote his young balloon riding business because he is able to use the Internet to reach potential clients around the world. The photos of his colourful balloons, from a bird against a backdrop of the Alps to a business logo over a city skyline, were no doubt as memorable to the more than 100 people gathered for the CCIA/EDiMA event as his stories. He told one about accidentally scooping up a cobra into the balloon basket during a bumpy landing – and the passengers who made a hasty exit without any assistance.

During the following panel, Sergey Filippov, Associate Director of the Lisbon Council and Jens Henrik Jeppesen, director for European Affairs at the Centers for Democracy and Technology each presented papers. (GET LINKS)

Jeppesen’s study said….. (will add based on his paper as I was tweeting during much of his presentation)

Filippov said that there is a strong relation between digitalization and quality of life. While he acknowledged it is not possible to say digital opportunities increase the quality of life, it does correlate. “The Internet creates huge opportunities for people who would be left behind in old traditional, industrial age industries.

Schaake said she was pleased with the very valuable debate and emphasis on opportunities the Internet, but that those opportunities need to be embraced in a smart way.  She noted the need to bring down roaming charges and create a telecom single market. “Without net neutrality and a telecom single market, it will be difficult to get a digital single market,” Schaake said.

She noted one obstacle in embracing these new economic opportunities are incumbent companies wanting to keep things as they are and using their influence to convince policymakers that is the best course – which would harm Europe’s competitiveness. She said a principled approach is important. “Instead of looking at what services are at stake when we devise policies, we should look at what we want to create.”

Sherwood agreed the Internet represents an opportunity to boost jobs and the economy that should be embraced. He noted that while the Internet doesn’t give someone a job, it gives them a tool to create one. “Ecommerce, similarly, gives people who want to get into business a way to do so with low overheads and administrative burden,” Sherwood said. “The whole point of the Internet is anyone can connect to anyone who is connected. Suddenly the rest of the world got bigger.”

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