Smarter cities are a great example. Every city already generates huge amounts of information, for many different purposes. But too often that information is lost. It’s time to get smart and start using it
Video message from Neelie Kroes, Vice-President, Commissioner Digital Agenda, European Commission
Transcription of the interview
My job as a digital agenda commissioner is to ensure every European can benefit from new digital opportunities. Those opportunities are huge. From healthcare to hotels, transport to tourism: digital tools can transform everything we do. Smarter cities are a great example. Every city already generates huge amounts of information, [for] many different purposes. But too often that information is lost. It’s time to get smart and start using it, helping fix problems in many different areas. Innovation can support the two thirds of Europeans who live in cities, and make their lives greener, smoother, more pleasant, and it can help cities themselves work more efficiently. From easing traffic congestion to knowing exactly when to water the public park, to bins that tell you when they need emptying. Not to mention apps like Fix My Street, that makes it easier to report the problems and potholes near you. A simple smartphone signal that goes straight to the town hall.
Over there in Amsterdam there are also some very good examples. From helping people bike like a local, to showing them the best time to visit their favourite museum – even with real time monitoring of queues. And it’s not just one city. Barcelona, in Spain, was recently awarded the EU’s e-capital prize for making Barcelona a people city. In areas from city lighting to transport and energy, offering smart, flexible services, open data, new ways to work between academia, public and private partners, and new kinds of social innovation. These are great examples of innovation, nor for its own sake, but in ways that can improve lives and make cities more liveable. Of course, when it comes to using those innovations we have to get smart. They need to be open, they need to be interoperable, and that’s the way to stimulate maximum innovation. Then, city start-ups and citizens can customise, adapt and improve on ideas, and then buyers can continue to benefit from an open, competitive choice without getting stuck with one supplier. From the EU, I welcome these changes, and I am determined to support them.
First, the EU has brought out new legislation to open up public data, with access to more information – for free, or virtually for free, in usable formats, ensuring the greatest and widest benefit and stimulus from this valuable public resource. But this isn’t just about new laws; it’s about a new mentality. To see the benefits of going open. I hope that new mentality takes hold in every country, at every level. Second, our European innovation partnership on smart cities and communities is about getting people together. So you can look at what others have tried and say not just: does it work? But: can I apply it back home? Will it replicate [and scale]? Can it work for my city and for others? Then we can not just swap ideas, but generate the economies of scale to make these ideas work in every corner of Europe, working for every city, every supplier, every start-up. And third, our Future Internet Program is supporting innovation, making basic building blocks available to innovators and app developers, and with an experimental environment to test out new ideas. It’s already used by cities like Santander, who are empowering their citizens to take the pulse of the city.
All in all, the EU, through its competitiveness and innovation program, is investing in 20 pilot projects, covering over 60 would-be smart cities. And finally, I am fighting for every European to enjoy better broadband, with the rules to make it cheaper to roll out those networks, without unnecessary duplication and road works, better rules on Spectrum, so [that] devices work across the continent, and an end to roaming charges, so you can use that smartphone app abroad just like at home. The benefits of this are significant. We can help manage our resources and protect the environment, we can support innovative web entrepreneurs, and stimulate an app economy worth millions of jobs. We can boost our economy, giving European suppliers [the edge] in this growing, global market. And we can ensure lives that are more convenient and more pleasure, because smart cities are about improving public services that people use. They are about integrating previously separate services, like transport and energy. Most of all they are about empowering citizens with the tools to take control of their lives, and that is something we should all care about. And so I wish you all the best success getting together to build that better future.
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