About the Messages from SEEDIG 5

Under the overarching theme ‘Shaping a trusted Internet for all’, the fifth SEEDIG annual meeting (Bucharest, May 2019) featured discussions and exchanges of experiences on a broad range of issues, from 5G networks to digital accessibility, and from cybersecurity to the future of work.

These discussions are reflected in key messages, outlining main takeaways, possible goals, and proposals for future actions. The messages represent the main output of the meeting. Through wide distribution, at regional, European and international level, they are meant to help inform and influence decision-making processes within governmental entities, national parliaments, companies, and regional organisations.

We invite you to read these Messages and help us share them within and beyond the region.

Security and trust

(S1.1) Cybersecurity in South Eastern Europe: how to ensure trust and security?

  • We need a secure cyberspace and stronger protection of users’ rights in order to enable successful digital transformation and strengthen trust in online services and digital technologies.
  • Internet users need a cybersecurity mindset, which can be achieved by education and capacity building from an early age. Cybersecurity needs to become part of digital curricula in schools.   
  • At the national level, we also need increased investments, more experts and cooperation between governments, the private sector and other stakeholders in securing cyberspace.
  • By cyberspace being seamlessly interconnected and borderless, cross-border cooperation is essential. Interinstitutional cooperation at the regional level needs to be strengthened and expanded across the whole region, including the Eastern Partnership countries. It is also important to enhance cooperation among stakeholders within the region at large.
  • The cyber dialogue at the EU level should consider bringing in regional multistakeholder processes such as SEEDIG, that can increase trust in existing processes, help exchange good practices and reach out to wider communities.
  • Fighting cybercrime, which is also important for cyberspace security, remains the responsibility of governments at large. However, we need a modernised international legal framework and modernised tools suitable for the digital era, as well as good cooperation among criminal justice institutions at the regional and international levels.

(S1.2) Building trust in digital technologies

  • More attention should be paid within the region to protecting human rights online, including through proper awareness raising and education.
  • We have to use the momentum to build an Internet of trust while digital technologies become more pervasive and the public at large becomes more aware of the importance of privacy, personal data protection, and the actors who process personal data.
  • We need to develop a diversified set of protective mechanisms to ensure trust in digital technologies, by combining regulatory and self-regulatory instruments through collaborative efforts of all stakeholders.
  • We need to clarify the roles and responsibilities of different actors to address existing mistrust and build a trustworthy digital environment for the future.
  • We need collaborative efforts in the region, as well as cooperation with global actors, to develop human-centric digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to reflect our values and diversity.

Infrastructure and technologies for digital innovation

(S2.1) Technical developments in South Eastern Europe

  • We need to raise awareness on how the Internet works on a technical level, and regional initiatives like SEEDIG can serve as facilitators for such activities.
  • Legislative and regulatory actions – in areas such as content policy and data governance – affect Internet service providers (ISPs) and can have unintended consequences for the Internet itself. All stakeholders should work together to address such challenges.  
  • It is important for the SEE+ countries to keep Internet traffic local to assure optimisation and reduce latency and cost, through local Internet exchange points (IXPs) and peering.
  • For a more secure and resilient Internet ecosystem, Network Operator Groups (NOGs) in SEE+ need better communication and collaboration among each other and with governments, in order to improve the Internet infrastructure and other essential services.
  • IPv4 addresses are running out and a steady deployment of IPv6 is the way forward for businesses, since the cost of doing business on IPv4 will be high. Awareness raising efforts on the topic are needed.

(S2.2) Are we ready for 5G?

  • The deployment of 5G will facilitate many new services beneficial for the region. We should map best practices and consider them when deploying 5G infrastructure, to encourage all relevant stakeholders – especially the governments – to support its development.
  • Better cooperation among countries in the region is needed to enable faster deployment of 5G networks, while considering lessons learnt during past technological transitions.
  • Cooperation among relevant stakeholders needs to be reinforced in order to address policy and regulatory issues associated with 5G deployment.
  • Making 5G spectrum available, addressing small cell issues, and simplifying lengthy and complex authorisation procedures are the recommendations for regulators to facilitate 5G deployment.
  • Policy makers need to think of new, innovative spectrum award procedures ahead of 5G launch, in order to bring new players into the game, not just the traditional telecom operators.
  • Policy makers also need to create an environment that fosters investment in infrastructure, and the tech companies need to join the ecosystem and share their know-how.

Digital businesses: trends, challenges and regulations

(S3.1) Businesses in the digital era: opportunities and challenges

  • From a regional perspective, the global trend of consolidation of Internet access through a limited number of platforms needs to be looked at more carefully, especially from a regulatory angle. Any regulation in this area needs to balance the potential benefits of consolidation (such as addressing the digital gap) with the challenges it brings in areas such as competitivity and market entry.
  • There is a strong ICT industry in the region, fueled by a traditionally good engineering education, but which is based largely on an outsourcing business model that is not sustainable. Policies are needed to identify and use the potential for innovation in the region and to support the development of an enabling entrepreneurial culture that allows start-ups to be less risk-averse and more open to international markets.
  • To support the growth of the digital economy across the region, several common challenges need to be addressed, such as the tendency of high-skilled people to leave the country, bureaucracy, economic and/or political instability, and the lack of financing opportunities. There is also a need to avoid or remove nationalistic policies such as those that impose restrictions on cross-border data flows.
  • When it comes to creating an enabling environment for the digital economy, putting in place legal frameworks is not enough. There is also a need for transparency and compliance with democratic principles when implementing such frameworks, to give the private sector a sense of clarity and predictability.
  • Businesses in SEE+ countries should strategise to build ecosystems that foster the potential of human capital and digital skills of the region. In addition, regional cross-sector cooperation is needed, to strengthen the digital business landscape in SEE+, to improve the regulatory frameworks, and to develop a strong regional digital market. SEEDIG can serve as a platform for such cooperation.

(S3.2) Dealing with the challenges of online content

  • Although content creators want to be early adopters of opportunities that online platforms offer in order to reach their audience, they need to balance this need with staying up to date on practical policies of platforms, since these affect their creative businesses directly.
  • We need to reflect more carefully on the implications of certain government and private sector practices of policing Internet content, such as monitoring, intercepting or blocking online communications, and removal of online content. Measures need to be proportional and fit for purpose in order to avoid sweeping censoring or online surveillance.
  • Practical experiences from SEEDIG participants engaged in the discussion show that the current unclear deleting or blocking systems used by Internet platforms create frustration for regular users who upload online content legally, while providing no or very limited remedy procedures in cases when they feel the decision to remove or block content was biased or wrong. Internet platforms need to look more carefully into such issues.
  • There should be clear procedures in place to allow illegal content to be removed by or at the request of authorities, in line with democratic and rule of law principles. Having private actors decide what is illegal and what is not needs to be avoided.
  • Fighting misinformation through blocking or removing content is never effective. Real efforts, including financial allocations for nation-wide projects, need to be put into education on digital media and developing critical thinking skills, so that users can make informed decisions about trusting or not trusting online content and media sources. Users, companies and governments need to take responsibility regarding education on digital media, consumption and production.

Digital technologies: enhancing accessibility and skills

(S4.1) Accessible, available and affordable digital technologies for all

  • Policymakers need to be aware that accessibility is not only an issue for persons that fit into often rather narrow definitions of disabilities. In fact, at least one in seven inhabitants, amounting to over 30 million, in the SEE region lives with some form of disability, and we all may face disability at some stage in our lives, which can temporarily or permanently change the way we use digital technologies and access information. Therefore, digital accessibility defines the quality of our lives, promotes human rights and makes the Internet accessible for everyone.
  • The engagement of all relevant stakeholders is key in ensuring the development and deployment of digital technologies that are affordable and accessible for everyone. Existing international policies, standards and good practices from other countries can be tailored to fit the respective national circumstances across the region.
  • Persons with disabilities need to be involved in the entire process of providing digital accessibility, including designing, developing, testing and deploying accessible digital technologies. They need to be consulted in all stages of assuring accessibility and have to be involved in key activities such as testing and evaluation of accessible services and policies, to ensure they meet the needs of persons with disabilities.
  • Creating employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in the tech sector can facilitate the development of accessible digital technologies by design. No talent should be left behind, regardless of their disabilities.
  • Public procurement is a powerful tool for driving market players towards the production or provision of accessible products and services and an effective way of enforcing accessibility standards in public services, by stipulating accessibility requirements in public tenders.
  • Raising awareness and educating all relevant stakeholders about digital accessibility trends is key for the successful implementation of digital accessibility. In this respect, governments need to consider collaborating with industry and universities, and universities need to be encouraged to design and share their curricula on accessibility.
  • Legal frameworks are important, but not enough. We also need to teach accessibility at universities so that the next generations of ICT professionals have it in their DNAs.

(S4.2) Jobs gained, jobs lost: the future of work and the skills of tomorrow

  • Producing new needs could lead to new jobs which would address those needs.
  • The entrepreneurship culture and marketing skills in the region need to be developed in order to stimulate the growth of national and regional economies.
  • The gig economy is growing and governments need to understand it better and find ways to protect gig workers. They need to build sustainable and resilient systems that will address the needs of both workers and employers.
  • As the economy is continuously changing, people have and will continue to have multiple careers simultaneously. To address this upcoming trend, education must change so it can teach adaptability and other skills needed for the new labour market.