Only by continued cooperation will we stay in the digital lead

Only by continued cooperation will we stay in the digital lead

Opinion | Jeroen Hoencamp, ceo VodafoneZiggo

When it comes to digital, the Netherlands is a closely connected country. There's no other country in Europe with the same high level of digital connectivity as we have here. As a digital hub the Netherlands functions as an international, economic catalyst.

We are third in the Global Innovation Index. But anyone looking ahead in the digital arena will understand that this is not self-evident. We shouldn't nod off satisfied. The world around us is accelerating and will overtake us. That could cost us jobs and investments.

Recently it became known that over two hundred foreign companies have notified the Dutch government that they are considering moving to the Netherlands after Brexit. These companies are also looking at the Dutch digital infrastructure in the longer term. Which is why governments and the business world should develop a shared vision of the future to shape that digital transformation and to (continue to) invest in that.

According to a KPMG report, the Netherlands with its legislation and experiments, is the best prepared country in the world for that. An important precondition, however, is a reliable 5G network with national coverage. This network can only be realized if the government decides, today rather than tomorrow, whether or not frequency bandwidth will be made available on the 3.5 GHz band, and also decides on a date for the respective auction. Furthermore, an auction gains most from a proven and transparent auction model, aimed at an efficient use of spectrum at realistic prices instead of one-off maximum revenues. In this way, the government creates the preconditions for businesses to feel confident about making the necessary investments. 

5G gives Olympic Games unprecedented possibilities

The international context creates an even greater urgency. During the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, 5G ignites a flame of unprecedented possibilities for mobility, entertainment and technical innovation. Video streaming in 360 degrees for spectators and live analyses for athletes are only the beginning. In the US, providers are already rolling out 5G networks this year. In the Netherlands it might take another few years before there is certainty about the necessary frequencies enabling this. 

Besides the government we also need citizens and businesses that are involved in the digitization of their environment. Start-ups coming up with new solutions for today's problems. Energy companies that need digitization to shape the transformation from fossil to sustainable. And administrators on a local and national level that embrace the ambition to keep the Netherlands in the lead. Smart solutions in digital education, mobility and the Internet of Things will not become a reality and cities will not become 'smart' if we don't invest in that together.

The Netherlands needs a digitization strategy and a summit following the example set in Germany

I am optimistic about the digital future, but I'm also worried. In the coalition agreement digitization has been given a far too modest place. The House of Representatives has acknowledged this and has urged the government to organize a yearly digitization summit. In Germany such a summit is held each year under the leadership of the Federal Chancellor, underlining the seriousness of this topic for the government. In Germany this is 'Chefsache'. Our government is also setting to work to draft a national digitization strategy. The importance of these two initiatives can hardly be overestimated.

The digital infrastructure provided by telecom companies forms the basis of our digital future. However, the discussion goes beyond that. Is education sufficiently equipped to teach our children digital skills? Will administrators succeed in creating sufficient support for digital innovations in their Smart Cities? Will we succeed together in gaining public trust that the data we generate are in safe hands? The public needs to feel confident that the digital future will really bring progress in the various fields.

All topics require a broad public approach, in which the government should take a coordinating and stimulating role to have the many stakeholders all speak the same language. For the business world, it's important that there is a legal certainty to invest and that regulation is applied sparingly and sensibly as not to interfere with the digital future of the Netherlands any more than necessary.

(This opinion article was published on 12 February 2018, also by the FD paper)