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Pt1 - ACTS Projects 1995-1998: Intro
ACTS was a programme set up to develop Advanced Communications Technologies and Services, and to encourage the development of advanced trans-European networks and services that would further assist economic and social cohesion in the European Union.
It superseded the RACE programme, and was itself superseded by the Information Technology Society (IST) programme.
Advanced Communications Technology and Services, known simply as ACTS, is one of the specific programmes of the "Fourth Framework Programme of European Community activities in the field of research and technological development and demonstration (1994 to 1998)". In fact, it isthefocusof the EU's research effort to accelerate deployment of advanced communications infrastructures and services, and is complemented by extensive European research in the related fields of information technology and telematics. ACTS research strongly complements a broad range of Community policy initiatives, examples of which include:
ACTS builds on the work of the earlier RACE programmes (Research into Advanced Communications for Europe, 1985-1995), which were established to contribute to the"Introduction of IBC taking into account the evolving ISDN and national introduction strategies, progressing to Community-wide services by 1995."Independent assessments have confirmed that RACE broadly achieved this objective, and that by 1995 such technologieswerebeginning to be deployed in European countries either in specialised scientific networks or, in a few cases, as limited public services.
ACTS represents a further step towards the longer-term goal of realising a global Information Society. This not only serves the economic interests of the Member States but also provides a framework for European businesses to play leading roles within their sectors of operation. Participation and co-operation within ACTS has already become truly international in nature, through a progressive inclusion of participants from countries outside the EU and through an extension of scope from the core spheres of interest of the communications industries of Member States to major international usage interests. European industries expect major benefits for their own competitiveness and employment strategies from being at the forefront of world developments in communications. Within Europe, all the major telecommunications network operators, the leading broadcasters, cable TV operators and all the key European equipment manufacturers, together with European Small and Medium size Enterprises (SMEs) participate in the ACTS programme. Their enthusiasm, and sense of partnership with the major consumers of communications coupled with their willingness to conduct pre-competitive research in collaboration with their international rivals - is leading to a shared vision of the future. Together these lead to the so-called level playing field on which global competition may rapidly develop.
Advances in communications are now one of the major driving forces of change. Communications is itself important as a European industry sector, but its significance is far greater. It isan essential infrastructurefor the competitiveness of other economic sectors, and is the basis for trade, provision of services, production, transport, education and entertainment. Communications also has the necessary potential to meet the challenges of sustainable economic growth and new job creation, particularly outside major cities.
The use of advanced communications technology will make traditional services cheaper and make many new services economically viable: services like video telephony, multimedia mail, libraries and home shopping. There will be new hobbies andleisureinterests available from home and new forms of entertainment - with a wide choice of high quality and interactive entertainment channels. There will be access to digital video libraries. Technology will make distance less important, thus allowing more people to work at home or in local offices. This will reduce the pressure to commute into the centre of large cities. It will allow rural and remote areas to share fully in the prosperity of Europe. It will support new ways of working such as the virtual corporation where employees have no fixed workplace. Advanced communications will create many new job opportunities both in the telecommunications industry itself and also in other areas of the economy.
Such advances have already enabled a steady improvement in quality, cost/performance and user friendliness of communications systems. However, these are far from having reached their full capabilities. Within the coming decades distance and capacity constraints in communications will be largely overcome. This will give people increased freedom to organise their own lives in the ways they prefer, and in the places they prefer, by providing greater opportunities to control their own leisure and working environment.
Advanced communications technologies and services are crucial for consolidation of the internal market, for Europe's industrial competitiveness and for balanced economic development. They also offer new opportunities for social cohesion and cultural development. All of these considerations have been important concerns of European policy for many years.
Within the European communications sector, EU research programmes amount to perhaps 5% of the total RTD effort being realized by its supporting industries. Though historically the industries have undertaken comparatively high levels of long-term research, competitive pressures, and the pace of technological change have led to a steady shortening of product life cycles, and the need for industries to concentrate their resources on the shorter-term needs of product development. Though small in percentage terms, European research can have a significant impact when it is far enough into the future to be pre-competitive, addressing medium and longer-term issues on which industries need to agree common frameworks and practices, and within which they will later develop their own products in a competitive manner.
There are other reasons why European Research makes a significant contribution to the communications sector, relating to the truly international nature of this industry. Firstly, an increasing proportion of communications traffic crosses national borders. This is particularly the case for the Internet and the more advanced services, for the communications of larger multinational companies, and for those individuals who exercise their right to live and work in other Member States. The equipment supply industry, and the network operators themselves are also extending a significant proportion of their business to markets outside their home country.
Secondly, research is so costly that in many countries even the major companies no longer have the necessary resources to bring major new systems to market on their own. Strategic alliances are being formed on a global scale as organisations seek to share the burden and the risks of heavy long-term investment, and in return to share in the benefits of a much enlarged scale and scope of their combined markets.
Finally, these factors imply that individual corporate or national actions on standardisation and regulation are necessary, but on their own they are no longer sufficient to ensure that broadly supported international solutions emerge and that fragmentation of markets is avoided.
Since 1985, international action and co-operation at the level of pre-competitive research has been steadily built-up and extended beyond the Member States. In this way subsequent developments of international standards, regulations and markets can follow at a much faster pace than has been achieved in the past. This trans-national role is currently supported, from a European perspective, by the research and technological development undertaken within ACTS, and from a global perspective by other international co-operation initiatives such as the pilot projects on the Information Society launched by the G7 countries.
However, the Commission's actions are always governed by the principle ofsubsidiarity. In simple terms, this means that Commission intervention is made only in those cases where a pan-European action is appropriate and necessary, and not otherwise. Areas where a national action would be most appropriate are left to that national action. In the implementation of ACTS, this principle of subsidiarity led to the "National Host" concept (described later in this document) which is now supporting most of the practical experimentation and related dissemination initiatives in the ACTS Programme.
The Council Decisionadopting the Specific Programme ACTS set its objectives as being
". . .to develop advanced communication systems and services for economic development and social cohesion in Europe, taking account of the rapid evolution in technologies, the changing regulatory situation and opportunities for development of advanced trans-European networks and services.
The aims are to support European policies for early deployment and effective use of advanced communications in consolidation of the internal market, and to enable European industry to compete effectively in global markets. The work will enable the re-balancing of public and private investments in communications, transport, energy use and environment protection, as well as experimentation in advanced service provision. In conjunction with the work in the specific programme on information technologies, it will provide a common technological basis for applications research and development in the specific programme on telematic systems and will prepare the ground for the development of a European market for information services. . ."
Within ACTS, the emphasis of the RTD work has shifted from the exploration of fundamental concepts and detailed system engineering (as in RACE), to issues relating to implementation of advanced systems and generic services, and applications which demonstrate the potential use of advanced communications in Europe. A key principle is that ACTS research is undertaken in the context of trials. This ensures that all work leads to a goal which somebody needs, that technology is not pursued for its own sake, and that there is a focus for consolidation of the work of each individual project.
As for the research itself, European support for practical experimentation is pre-competitive, and timed to precede the much larger scale trials that are performed by individual organizations and alliances, immediately before and after market launch of their products. The experimentation is clearly closer-to-market than the research that preceded it, yet it is still pre-competitive. The diagram also illustrates how experimentation is undertaken in the latter stages of an ACTS project of 2-4 years duration, when its pure research activities are reducing.
Within the Fourth Framework for EU research, there are several programmes relating to Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), and it is important to co-ordinate the work done. In the past, RACE projects have built on the results of generic technology projects from the ESPRIT Programme (in areas such as microelectronics components and software tools). Similarly the telecommunications requirements of the telematics applications have drawn heavily on the technologies developed and evaluated in RACE. ESPRIT and TELEMATICS are both current Programmes under the Fourth Framework, with ESPRIT addressing fundamental technologies and TELEMATICS looking at sector-specific applications of ICT (such as in education, public administration, health). Co-operative links are continually being strengthened, and a number of joint projects and initiatives are now in place covering subjects of common interest.
Strong relationships also exist with a number of COST actions and EUREKA projects centred on communications subjects. Though they are not EU research actions, these are widely supported by organisations from many European countries, and are producing many significant results that are actively taken into account within ACTS.
Apart from considerations of technology, industry, and employment, the increased use of information and communications technologies (ICT) raises many issues of a social or societal nature. Studies of these wider aspects of the information society are being co-ordinated by an Information Society Activity Centre (ISAC), which supports the developing policies of the Commission itself.
ACTS participants have also been encouraged to seek the support of the EU's International Co-operation Programme (INCO) and specific assistance programmes for Central and Eastern European countries such as PHARE and TACIS. Nearly thirty of the ACTS projects have, together, a total of about sixty participations from C&E Europe that are supported by INCO. This total remains high in comparison to that achieved in other RTD programmes.
In addition to the direct participation of organisations from C&E Europe in ACTS, a close working relationship was developed with the twenty-four autonomous projects in advanced communications that were established under the EU's COPERNICUS scheme. This was designed to improve co-operation in science and technology between the EU and the countries of C&E Europe and to promote the transfer of knowledge and technology. Notable examples of East-West co-operation in leading edge research have emerged as a result: eg. in the fields of integrating satellite and terrestrial mobile communications, and multimedia services.
In February 1995, an Information Society conference involving ministers of the (then) G7 countries and a major exhibition were held in the European Parliament in Brussels. This led to the launch of 11 Pilot projects, addressing applications and the underlying international broadband network infrastructure necessary to support these. Several of these projects are strongly supported by the research results of ACTS, eg:
These projects and others, are also supported by other EU research programmes such as Esprit and Telematics. The G8 projects receive no direct funding. Progress is achieved through the direct research contributions and support of individual organisations, coupled with the political support of the corresponding government departments of the G8 countries. The objectives of those G8 projects related to the communications sector have proved to be closely aligned to those of the ACTS Programme itself, and co-operation between ACTS and the pilot projects has proved to be mutually rewarding.