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EU sets sail with undersea connectivity drive in digital infrastructure initiative | Computer Weekly



Noting that the future competitiveness of its economy depends on advanced digital network infrastructures and services, and that widespread connectivity is essential for the deployment of services such as telemedicine, automated driving, predictive maintenance of buildings and precision agriculture, the European Union (EU), through the European Commission (EC), has revealed a set of possible actions to foster the innovation, security and resilience of digital infrastructures.

The EU believes it should foster a vibrant community of European innovators, advancing the development of integrated connectivity and collaborative computing infrastructures. To advance this, it has published a whitepaper to analyse the challenges Europe currently faces in the roll-out of future connectivity networks and achieve a true digital single market, along with a set of actions at national and EU level aimed at improving submarine cable security and resilience.

The whitepaper, How to master Europe’s digital infrastructure needs?, envisages the creation of a Connected Collaborative Computing Network (3C Network) to set up end-to-end integrated infrastructures and platforms for telco cloud and edge, which could be used to orchestrate the development of innovative technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) applications for various use cases. The EU believes such a collaborative approach could be prepared via large-scale pilots or a possible new Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) in the computing continuum.

The paper also makes the point that it will be essential to make better use of synergies between existing initiatives, such as the IPCEI on Next-Generation Cloud Infrastructure and Services, and funding programmes, such as the Connecting Europe Facility and Digital Europe. This could include a possible coordinating role for the Smart Networks and Services Joint Undertaking (SNS JU) to support the creation of a collaborative connectivity and computing ecosystem. 

“Private investment is flowing into the subsea industry all the time to create more diverse paths from A to B and provide resiliency should a specific cable be damaged, but any legislative support to make upgrading and securing network infrastructure easier is welcomed”
Ciaran Delaney, EXA Infrastructure

The whitepaper also urges the EU to realise the full potential of the digital single market for telecoms, by considering measures to ensure a true level playing field, and to rethink the scope of application and objectives of its current regulatory framework. 

To protect Europe’s network and computing infrastructure, the actions also advise the EU to incentivise the deployment and enhance the security and resilience of strategic submarine cable infrastructures. Building on the recommendation adopted together with the whitepaper, it suggests a joint EU governance system may be considered in the longer term, together with a review of available instruments designed to better leverage private investments to support Cable Projects of European Interest (CPEIs).

As an immediate action responding to calls from member states and stakeholders, the set of actions recommends seeking to improve coordination within the EU, for instance by assessing and mitigating security risks, establishing a cable security toolbox, and streamlining procedures for permit granting. To support the follow-up of the recommendation, the EC is setting up a Submarine Cable Infrastructure Expert Group, composed of member states’ authorities.

The EC has already taken a number of actions to foster the transition of traditional connectivity networks towards the infrastructures of the future. In October 2023, it published a broad exploratory consultation on the future of the connectivity sector and its infrastructure, alongside which it presented the Gigabit Infrastructure Act (GIA), for which a political agreement was found on 5 February 2024. The GIA introduces a set of actions to simplify and speed up the deployment of very-high-capacity networks, reducing the administrative burden and the cost of deployment.

Commenting on the proposals, Thierry Breton, commissioner for the EU’s internal market, said: “Digital network infrastructures are key for a competitive and resilient Europe. The whitepaper we are presenting … is laying the foundations for a future Digital Networks Act focused on three pillars: investment, regulatory framework and security. We need to create a level playing field for a true digital single market to unlock the investment needed to build the digital network infrastructures of tomorrow.”

Ciaran Delaney, chief operating officer at telecoms service provider EXA Infrastructure, added: “Submarine cables are like the internet’s main arteries, carrying data around the world, so it’s only natural that the EU Commission is looking at ways to secure these vital pieces of infrastructure. Private investment is flowing into the subsea industry all the time to create more diverse paths from A to B and provide resiliency should a specific cable be damaged, but any legislative support to make upgrading and securing network infrastructure easier is welcomed.”

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