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Public Consultation on the Future of the Internet in Hungary

Public Consultation on the Future of the Internet in Hungary

2015. 05. 11.

Question: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that the proposal aiming to introduce a tax on the Internet would be dropped, stating that “since people question the rationality of extending the telecommunications tax, it cannot be introduced in its current form.” At the same time he also underlined the necessity of restoring common ground for a rational debate and launching a national consultation on the Internet, its regulation and financial questions. Do you think that the national consultation on the Internet in Hungary will be able to answer such questions?

Tamás Deutsch: Yes, I am convinced that it will. I think that the consultation in itself means that the Hungarian Government has, without question, declared its support for the freedom of the Internet. The dialogue, a result of InternetKon, will help us to have more people surf the Internet, more often, for a lower price, reaching more content. InternetKon aims to have citizens, professional and civil organizations as well as companies determine, through a public discourse, the principles and directions of governmental decisions affecting the Internet and, in a broader context, the digital ecosystem in Hungary. The first two months of the consultation proved that this dialogue brings substantial results, which can be channeled into the governmental decision-making process. We would like to have more people express their opinion. What the Hungarian Internet will look like in the future depends on them.

Question: Why is there talk about the Hungarian Internet and its future? The digital web is one of the most global phenomena.

Tamás Deutsch: It is true that by now the Internet – thanks to digital content and the services you can reach through it – has become a decisive medium as well as a shaper of society, economy and culture. It is a platform for our lives, making it possible for us to share our ideas, thoughts and experiences in an unlimited way. It has increased the distribution of knowledge and broadened the access to information. Economic growth and the efficient functioning of a state rely increasingly upon how efficiently, deliberately and without restrictions we are able to make good use of the opportunities offered by the digital world. Allow me to give you an example of what the Hungarian Internet means. The Hungarian Internet has the same meaning as Hungarian football within global football or the Hungarian economy within the global one. There are certain tasks that no one else will do, if we don’t. We have to make sure that the broadband network is accessible to everyone, that quality, Hungarian-language content and educational materials are produced and useful public services exist. In this sense, regarding infrastructure, content and regulation, we can indeed talk about a Hungarian Internet and this is exactly what the public discussion, within the framework of InternetKon, is about.

Question: How should we picture the course of InternetKon? How will the suggestions from people interested in the consultation be turned into “real” questions?

Tamás Deutsch: We are certain that a consultation about the Internet should be organized on the Internet. Furthermore, we are also certain that we wouldn’t be on the right track if we would have invited outstanding, albeit limited number of experts to compile questions, or if we would have asked experts working in the public sector to put together a questionnaire. In our opinion, we are doing the right thing if and only if, at this stage, we involve Hungarian citizens. During the first part of InternetKon, which concluded March 26, we accepted questions from citizens on the Internetkon.hu webpage, under three topics: consumer protection, competitiveness and innovation, and Internet freedom and net neutrality. Altogether, we received 2,770 questions. From these, we created InternetKon’s 20-question survey to which we await responses from every citizen over the age of 14 during the months of May, June and July. I think it’s self-explanatory that the younger generations, who have exceptionally extensive Internet usage habits, should get a chance to express their opinion in this survey.
 
Question: Is such a national consultation on the Internet really necessary?

Tamás Deutsch: I am one of those who are convinced that the Internet has made our lives richer, or more precisely, not just richer but also more interesting. The development of the Internet globally, including Hungary, has raised several new opinions, standpoints, thoughts, and these have also led to debates. This is what we see from the questions submitted. Allow me to mention a few topics that were raised. Many questions related to strengthening digital literacy. For example, should we raise the number of required IT classes – maybe drastically – in public education? Another important topic was the issue of net neutrality, while questions were also submitted about strengthening market competition between Internet providers. The issue of tax relief to help startups was raised as well. Those people were right who said that Hungarian people are interested in giving their opinion on the development and progress of issues that increasingly affect their everyday lives.
 
Question: The digital world is developing rapidly, thus InternetKon is taking place at a very exciting time.

Tamás Deutsch: The Hungarian consultation is on the agenda at a very exciting time. One of the most important issues of the 2014-2019 European parliamentary term is the proposal to create a single, unified, digital market. Throughout Europe, the implementation of the joint program, aiming to make broadband Internet accessible for every household in the European Union by 2020, is well underway. Within the framework of this program, Hungary has set a far more ambitious goal: by 2018 every household in Hungary will have access to ultra-fast Internet. And the issue of net neutrality, one of the most important questions regarding the future of the Internet, has led to a heated debate in Europe and the United States. Therefore, the Hungarian public dialogue is on the agenda at a very exciting time and, thanks to the proposed questions that we received, the consultation on the Internet’s future creates a knowledge base, which in this situation can help immensely the work of decision-makers.
 
Question: A recent EU report on Hungary’s digital development portrays the country in a less than positive light, while at the same time, the train of digital industry is speeding by.

Tamás Deutsch: Let’s take one at a time. The EU report looked at five aspects: the network’s extension, people’s digital knowledge, Internet usage penetration, the scope of digital technology usage in business life and the accessibility of online public services. It is true that, ranked among the 28 member states, we are third from last. Let’s not forget the Digital Hungary Program, based on the national infocommunication strategy adopted last year, which states that by 2018 – two years earlier than the EU deadline – access to ultra-fast Internet will be available for every household in Hungary. Until 2020, the Hungarian Government, together with market and institutional partners, is carrying out digital developments on an unprecedented scale. The first step was the launching of the subprogram in Nyíregyháza, where within the framework of complex developments, intelligent urban services and healthcare IT investments will be carried out, e-administration will be extended, and the equipment necessary for implementation will be provided. The mission of Digital Hungary, as summarized by the head of the ministry responsible, is to provide balanced development for Hungary’s infocommunication sector, through coordinated governmental development programs, making it possible for infocommunication tools and services to give new impetus to competitiveness, sustainable development, employment and social equality.

Question: With an infocommunication strategy already adopted and a Digital Hungary Program launched, can the future results of the national consultation on the Internet have a substantial say in these programs?

Tamás Deutsch: InternetKon provides a possibility for Hungarian citizens to have a say in decisions related to digital developments. The decisions, based on the opinion of the people, are made by the Government. Therefore, the responses given to InternetKon’s survey do count.