Digitalisation is completely transforming societies around the world. Politics, economy, and society are desperately seeking strategies to cope with this radically changing era. The New Digital Deal therefore aims to renew social and economic policies and modernise democracies to adapt them to the digital age. These and other demands of Telefónica's Digital Manifesto were debated by a committee that included members of the public sector, private sector and civil society invited by UdL Digital in Berlin, in a common effort to reflect on how to develop a human-centric digital transformation.
Different perspectives of the digital transformation
During the past five years, our perspectives on digitalization have substantially changed, held Christoph Steck, Director Public Policy & Internet at Telefónica S.A., in his introductory speech. As concerns regarding digitalisation increase, we look for specific ways to tackle these issues that will allow us to shape and actively accompany this digital world.
The key issues identified in the policy discourse are: transparency, inclusion, consumer choice, smart public policies and a focus on basic fundamental rights for the digital age.
A global view shows us that in South America, for example, there are still rural areas without access to broadband connectivity, and innovation and new approaches are needed from companies and authorities to close these gaps a as soon as possible. Telefonica is a leader doing that with its “Internet para Todos” project.
Finally, Steck observes increased local penetration, as the speed of digitalisation is increasing in the world of work. However, other areas such as social, taxation, legislation, data protection, and data security have not updated their policies to face the challenges brought by digitalisation. Competition rules should be modernised at European level and market surveillance should make it possible to promote and create a level playing field for businesses.
A new approach to digital policy
For Konstantin von Notz, vice-president of the parliamentary group Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens), “the debate has changed considerably in recent years, the beginnings of network policy perceived the promises of new technology too positively" and have hardly allowed reflection on possible disadvantages. Germany has a strong industry sector due to strong regulation, down to the smallest detail.
Von Notz indicated that the regulation was missing in digitalisation. In Germany there is a motto that legislators should keep their fingers away from it, and it will work, but this did not exactly work and therefore a new approach to digital policy is needed.
In the future, data protection can no longer be separated from data security. Von Natz stated that as politicians, they had been naive, with an open infrastructure and without standards. In some cases, there are not even clear responsibilities of the security authorities in terms of hacking, data risks, false news, misinformation" and other scenarios of latent threats. However, the opportunity of creating an adequate legislative framework can be leveraged to encourage a strong and sustainable development in this field.
The economy must also overcome rigidity
For Valerie Mocker, Head of European Affairs and Digital Policy at Nesta, the essential question is to whom digitalisation belongs and to whom the future belongs: "many people do not see the benefits, they feel abandoned, they need more initiatives to solve social problems." Digital solutions are not so much a matter of viability, people or products, but rather a cultural matter, because strong traditional resistance has to be transformed into scenarios of willingness to adopt innovations, where human affairs often fail. Regarding this topic, there is an important political detachment from young population and a lack of interest for digital issues in the older population.
“Politicians wait too long, change and the economy should also overcome their rigidity.”
Progress is not an end in itself
Falko Mohrs, SPD MP and member of the Committee on the Digital Agenda, sees many advantages in digitalisation, but the truth is between the lines.
“AI (artificial intelligence) and digitalisation increase participation and competencies; developments and misdevelopments no longer need decades, but very short periods of time, which places great demands on regulation.”
The concepts of regulation must be adopted at the European level at an early stage, and a basis must be established through sound training and a level playing field for all. “How do we create social innovation? That's a matter of power and capabilities, because technology and progress are not an end in themselves.” It is essential to provide people with new skills while establishing new rules and regulations for AI, keeping in mind that the discussion of strong AI versus weak AI is a discussion of values as well as a technical discussion.
“The Digital Manifesto is good, it shows the need for transparency and new regulation," says Thomas Koenen, Head of the Department Digitalisation and Innovation at the BDI (Federal Association of German Industries). He believes that human-centric approaches are very important, as participation and the right of equal opportunities is essential to everyone.
The declaration of human rights and its adaptation to the digital world is essential. To achieve this, we must adapt our policies to the fast-changing environment of digitalization. Koenen admits that the speed of change is very high, and in this scenario digital capabilities are not properly distributed. For the BDI, the threat of job loss through AI tangible, but the right conclusions must be drawn: if jobs disappear or potential changes occur, then education and continuous training will take on enormous importance.
“There is a lack of European global players who are digital leaders. Telefónica's Manifesto is exciting, but now it would be good if several actors in the sector joined forces and drew up joint catalogues of demands.”
When referring to the question of whether to facilitate network policy and digital policy rules or remove obstacles for start-ups and young businesses, von Notz said: “these impulses must be transparently announced and jointly elaborated, as regulation means establishing a framework for companies to know what they can do. This applies to both start-ups and already established businesses.”
Overall, current institutions are sufficient for this, digitalisation could be regulated well with the current political tools, legislators "just need to want to, and then act quickly".
Falko Mohrs sees an opportunity in the closer union of economics and politics. It is important to determine the ways in which action will be taken, even when dealing with complex agents and platforms. We should walk together with politicians, and apply this common consensus to relevant legal frameworks.