BY 1998, 10 "digital cities" will dot the expanse of the European Union in an attempt to promote the unrestricted flow of information through electronic networks. The EU industry commissioner Martin Bangemann's plan, unveiled on March 30, is that the cities will offer complete deregulation and open competition.
He is preparing the ground for the 1998 deadline when all EU member nations are expected to lift the checks and controls on electronics. Most members are unsure of the kind of impact forays into cyberspace might have on the economy and society.
But Bangemann is pushing hard. Competition will not only bring down prices for network services but also lure private industries. He has a particularly successful case to brandish: Amsterdam, thanks to the "progressive approach" of the Dutch government, is already in the process of this "digital revolution". Amsterdam's municipal authorities have set up a citywide computer network based on existing phone lines. Citizens can obtain public documents electronically and join Internet debates with legislators on any topic under the sun.
It's payday for the electronic industry. Companies are competing to hardsell payment schemes for Internet and are devising electronic advertisements. According to Bangemann, Amsterdam is very skilfully using highspeed computer networks to gear up the local economy.
"The digital cities will serve as a test bed to show people what conditions will be like when markets are open," hopes Stefano Micossi, director general of industry at the European Commission (EC). Corporate giants across Europe are planning major investments.
Digital city proponents are banking on public support. Bangemann hopes that the mayors and municipalities, egged on by their electorate, will act as the driving force to break down the barriers set up by their governments. "The (digital) cities can play a role as catalyst to force industry and politicians into a chain reaction," declares Simon Bensasson, head of the digital cities project at the EC. There is already a queue of hopeful candidates as a string of municipalities spread over Europe begin courting EU officials.