The European Commission has approved the new tax-based funding system for the Spanish public broadcaster RTVE, on which it had opened a formal investigation under EU state aid rules in December 2009. Spain abolished advertising and other commercial activities of RTVE and replaced this source of income by new taxes on TV and telecommunications operators. The Commission had doubts concerning the compatibility of the new taxes with EU law, in particular the rules on electronic communications networks and services. However, the Commission has now concluded that the compatibility of the aid to RTVE is not affected by the legality of the new taxes and that the measure is in line with the state aid rules, because it ensures that RTVE will not be overcompensated for providing public broadcasting services. The new Spanish law of 1 September 2009 provides that advertising, teleshopping; merchandising and pay-per-view services at RTVE will be discontinued with immediate effect. Spain intends to compensate RTVE for the abolition of these revenues with specifically dedicated income, generated from two new fiscal measures and one existing measure, in addition to the existing state financing of RTVE
Some 80 percent of European silent films are estimated to have been lost, and, due to legal challenges, even modern digital technology may not be sufficient to prevent something similar happening to other other types of film, the European Commission has warned in a new report. Only Latvia and Denmark have so far developed film digitisation strategies covering the whole national heritage. Hungary has decided to digitise only a hundred of its movies. Less then a third of member states currently collect digital material in the way they do analogue material, the report shows. All early films by Fritz Lang, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau or Georg Wilhelm Pabst are believed to be lost, along with hundreds of others from the end of the 19th century. According to the commission, the problem with rescuing the films lies in the lack of a new approach to preserving ageing movie tapes. Conservation of old film in sealed boxes cannot guarantee preservation for future generations. In the digital age, a new access model is needed, the commission says. However, questions about how to store and preserve digital material remain unanswered. Beyond the technological issues, legal difficulties also constrain the effective use of and access to old films. There are several different regimes under which EU member states collect, preserve, restore and share their national film collections. Simple administrative costs and the time needed to clear the rights often prevent the institutions from providing access to archive material. Some member states would welcome EU intervention on the question of copyright, the report from the commission says.
Decision designed to speed the deployment of high-speed wireless internet technologies
The European Commission (EC) has adopted harmonised technical rules for member states on the allocation of radio frequencies, aimed at avoiding interference and boosting its efforts to improve the deployment of high speed wireless internet services. In many member states the 800MHz frequency is being freed up as part of the “digital dividend” resulting from the switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting. The new decision by the EC means that if member states now decide to change the existing frequency allocation for broadcasting, they must immediately apply the new harmonised technical rules to make these frequencies available to wireless broadband applications. Although the decision does not itself require member states to make available the 790-862 MHz band for electronic communication services, the Commission said it is considering such a proposal in the forthcoming Radio Spectrum Policy Programme. The Commission said it wants EU countries to act quickly in freeing up the extra radio frequency, predicting that “coordinated management of this spectrum” could give an economic boost of up to EUR 44bn to the EU’s economy and help to achieve the EU 2020 Strategy target of high-speed broadband for all by the end of 2013.
The European Union’s Committee of the Regions has called on the European Commission (EC) to close the digital divide by ensuring that all citizens in the region have affordable broadband access. The EC has outlined its desire to get everyone online with high-speed connections by 2013 as part of the Europe 2020 plan, and the Committee has backed the initiative in a report written by Belgian MEP Jean-François Istasse. However, the report goes on to say that the EC must not rely on markets alone to deliver high-speed internet in hard-to-reach rural communities, mountainous regions and islands. The Committee has called on the EC to create policies that acknowledge market failure, and to set up public initiatives to help develop open networks in these areas. The Committee also warned of the potential impact on town planning and the environment from widespread deployments of antennas and masts
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) on Monday launched a new anonymous online tip off system for “vigilant citizens” to report corruption cases. OLAF director general Nicholas Ilett said that EU civil servants are cautious about approaching the watchdog directly about cases where they suspect corruption. The new Fraud Notification System “gives people the opportunity to submit information to OLAF anonymously but nevertheless to enter into a dialogue with our investigators’, he added. EU fraud investigators have always accepted anonymous tip-offs but “regularly face the practical problem” of being unable to question the whistleblowers to obtain clarifications and details. That has made it more difficult in the past to subject anonymous calls to the kind of strict scrutiny required to tackle abuses. During a pilot phase the fraud notification system will be available in English, French, German and Dutch. The English site can be accessed at https://fns.olaf.europa.eu/cgi-bin/disclaimer_cgi?p=q&lang=en. However, reports can already be entered on the online form in any EU language.
A new Europe-wide rule to prevent mobile phone users from building up large bills for surfing the internet via their handset has come into force. Customers can now require their phone firm to cut them off when their bill reaches a certain level after accessing the internet in other European nations. If users do not put in place a limit by 1 July, it will automatically be set at EUR 50. The phone firms will have to warn users when their bill hits 80 percent of the limit. Accessing the internet via your mobile phone while abroad is called “data roaming”. European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, said: “Protection against data roaming bill shocks is a useful step towards building customers’ confidence to use mobile networks to surf the internet when travelling around Europe. “Such confidence is essential if people and businesses are to use the internet to its full potential.” The Commission added that if service providers did not honour people’s set spending limits, national regulators would deal with complaints and impose any necessary sanctions. Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said the move was likely to reduce the cost of data roaming across Europe
Google is facing a preliminary anti-monopoly probe by the European Commission into its dominant position in online browsing and digital advertising following allegations that it demotes competing websites to the lower echelons of customers’ search results. The Silicon Valley internet company revealed today that the commission has sent out formal questionnaires seeking information about complaints from three firms – the British price comparison site Foundem, a French legal search engine called eJustice and a shopping site, Ciao, which is owned by Microsoft. The complaints centre on the way in which Google’s search results are compiled and on the terms and conditions the company attaches to deals with advertisers. Although the commission’s investigation is only at a tentative stage, the fact that Brussels is taking the issue seriously is likely to set off alarm bells at Google. Google handles 80 percent of European web searches, according to research firm ComScore, compared to 65 percent in the US. Google is likely to characterise the issue as an attack partly orchestrated by Microsoft, which recently merged its search business with Yahoo’s in an effort to challenge Google’s comfortable market lead
Microsoft and Yahoo! said Thursday that US and European regulators have cleared the way for them to blaze on with a planned tie-up aimed at taking on Internet search king Google. The companies said they had “received clearance for their search agreement, without restrictions, from both the US Department of Justice and the European Commission, and will now turn their attention to beginning the process of implementing the deal.” The European Commission earlier announced it had approved software giant Microsoft’s plan to acquire Yahoo!’s Internet search and advertising business. Under terms of the agreement announced in late July 2009, Microsoft’s new Bing search engine will handle online queries at Yahoo! properties, with the California Internet pioneer customizing presentation of results and ads. The transition will involve moving Yahoo!’s search platforms to Microsoft, with Yahoo! running sales relations with both companies’ premium search advertisers globally. Analysts are divided on how much closer the Microsoft-Yahoo! tie-up will take either company to Google, the overwhelming leader in a web search and advertising market, which research firm Forrester estimates will be worth more than USD 30bn (EUR 22bn) in 2014 in the United States alone. Microsoft and Yahoo! said Thursday that they continue to work with regulators in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan to provide all relevant information necessary for them to evaluate the transaction before the deal is launched in those countries
Two weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of social networking site Facebook, told the world to just get over it – no one cares about privacy anymore, provoking a storm of protest across cyberspace. On Thursday, the European Commission responded to the 24-year-old billionaire and announced plans for comprehensive new laws that have in their sights the massively popular website. The commission is concerned that its existing rules on data protection date back to 1995, the very early days of what was at the time called the “information superhighway” and are extraordinarily out of date. Brussels is not just worried that the internet has sped ahead of its regulatory grasp, but also that many technologies, in particular Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), behavioural advertising and even airport security devices have proceeded apace, leaving EU legislation in the lurch. The commission on Thursday, also the continent’s official Data Protection Day, “warned that data protection rules must be updated to keep abreast of technological change to ensure the right to privacy.” Underscoring its new powers under the Lisbon Treaty and the legal basis given to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the commission said it wants to create “a clear, modern set of rules” guaranteeing a high level of personal data protection and privacy. Mentioning Facebook, Myspace and Twitter by name, Ms Reding said she will start this year with a revision of the 1995 Data Protection Directive, in a speech that outlined the main principles and goals of her upcoming work as Europe’s top fundamental rights watchdog
Revenues from e-commerce accounted for some 12 percent of European business income last year, according to a recent EU report. The European Commission’s Eurostat office found that in many member countries firms were drawing significant revenues from ecommerce transactions mainly within their own borders. Domestic transactions accounted for 83 percent of e-commerce sales in the United Kingdom. Advertisement Ireland reported the highest percentage of e-commerce sales, with 26 percent of revenues coming from e-commerce. That country was also amongst the highest in sales outside of its own border, with nearly 40 percent of e-commerce turnover from outside its own borders. The study also found that the overwhelming majority of businesses in Europe utilize the web. Overall 93 per cent of businesses in EU states have some sort of internet access, while 82 per cent now use a fixed broadband connection. Additionally, eurostat reported that the use of RFID devices is on the up. Three per cent of European enterprises utilize some sort of RFID technology. Personal identification and access control applications were most popular, followed by inventory tracking, automated payment systems and anti-theft devices.