EuroCo's Kroes wants more interoperability

Neelie Kroes, grand lady of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda, today declared the common IT market would do well by boosting interoperability and thus competitiveness.

“I am still a big fan of open standards. I believe in openness, and I believe in practising what one preaches”, said Kroes in her speech at the Open Forum Europe summit, currently taking place in the European capital Brussells. Kroes went on to call for reform of European ICT standardisation processes, making them more meaningful around the world.

Kroes called for reform on how ICT standards are dealt with in the EU, saying the way standards are set within Europe are not reacting fast enough to technical reality. She stated she is working with her colleague Tajani to make proposals to reform the standardisation system, with some key reforms being of special relevance to the ICT field, meaning the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) is going to face some changes.

ETSI could be used in its role as a standards body to fast-track approval of World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in a process hosted by the organisation itself. Alternatively, the EU could assess if “these bodies”, namely the W3C or Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) were compliant with EU criterias determining openness, transparency and balance.

Kroes called for rules for ex-ante disclosures concerning standards involving intellectual property rights, a proposal set to give shady companies (like Rambus) focussing on IP revenue a heart-attack. Disclosing IP were necessary to set the proper price, keep the process transparent and to be able to decide on the economic impact of using a technology. Kroes here referred to a draft of new antitrust rules which are apparently designed to keep standardisation processes free of abuse – for instance such as patenting the contents of documents being discussed. She declared all bodies involved with standards should have ex-ante disclosure rules and financing should be tied to the existence of such rules.

The College of Commissioners is also thinking about how to apply thumbscrews and other devices to ITC companies which aim to lock out competitors and thus interoperability. Kroes referred to her experience with “reticent” Microsoft. A new law is an option, stated Kroes, which will force companies out of their walled gardens and into open competition. Such a law would help avoid long-winded courtcases and would certainly also be detrimental to Steve Job’s health. As such, a new law is “not a decision taken lightly”, said Kroes.

However, a new law regulating openness is certainly not a bad idea, in view of the current trend of establishing locked-in devices with what is generally seen as arbitrary decision-making on who is allowed to sell what app over a single marketplace.

A new European Interoperability Framework (EIF) is also on the horizon for this year. It will call for public bodies to opt for solutions with the least constraint, making sure no supplier can rake in cash over a long period by locking a body in. Under the new EIF2, public authorities would have to justify using closed solutions.