Article by CEO Markus Haas:

“We need a new digital deal so that everyone benefits from digitalisation”

Photo: Telefónica S.A.
The Telefónica Group has published a new edition of its Digital Manifesto, in which the telecommunications company makes a global commitment to a “new digital deal” so that digitalisation benefits everybody in times of rapid technological, political and social change. In a guest article, Markus Haas, CEO of Telefónica Deutschland, explains why many existing laws and regulations no longer meet the challenges of the digital age, what he hopes will emerge from more intensive collaboration between business, politics and society, and how Telefónica is putting the Digital Manifesto into action in Germany. Guest article by Markus Haas, CEO of Telefónica Deutschland Holding AG As a company, Telefónica has never restricted its focus to purely commercial matters. We have always regarded ourselves as a pioneer in terms of helping to shape society for the good of humankind. We take this responsibility seriously. And with digitalisation advancing apace, we firmly believe that this is more important now than ever before.

The opportunities of digitalisation must be accessible to everyone

The impacts of the digital transformation on politics, business and society are huge. However, along with these massive opportunities, an anti-liberal counter-movement opposed to globalisation is also on the rise. Against this background, Telefónica has published its full revision of the “Digital Manifesto” that first appeared in 2014. This is intended as a roadmap aimed at making the benefits of digitalisation accessible to everyone. It is clear that this is impossible without extensive modernisation of the social, commercial and democratic institutions.

Collaboration between all social stakeholders is vital

Markus Haas
Our current laws and regulations, indeed our whole thinking, are based on an analogue world. They are simply no longer adequate for the complexity of the digital world, its speed and its agility. However, modernisation must take two premises into account. Firstly: we must not let ourselves be distracted by technological aspects. Instead, we need to focus on people and their needs. Secondly, we need the involvement and support of as many social stakeholders as possible. This is right at the heart of Telefónica's new manifesto. A new digital deal centred on people is required. It is essential to define a new social contract that helps to deliver more effective, more open collaboration between governments, business and civil society. A social contract that ensures that technology makes life better for all members of society. On this basis, the Digital Manifesto defines five key action areas.

Essential reforms in five action areas

Photo: Telefónica S.A
Digital inclusion comes first here. Digitalisation must be an integrative process in which all regions of the world and all social strata can participate. Yet billions of people still have no access to connectivity – so digitalisation passes them by. Therefore, broadband expansion has to be the top priority. In Germany, expansion of digital infrastructures is shouldered entirely by private companies. What we want most from politicians is an investment-friendly environment. For example, when it comes to expanding 5G networks in Germany, it will be crucial to establish mechanisms that ensure falling frequency costs. At the same time, the manifesto emphasises an essential realignment of social and tax policy that takes digitalisation and digitally active companies into account. In line with the existing position of Telefónica, the manifesto identifies transparency and the individual's control over their data as a further action area. This is the only way to create trust and therefore the basis for using data for positive social change in fields such as health, education, transport and climate change. In addition, global internet platforms must assume responsibility for social developments in future. The duty of legislators and regulators to ensure compliance with laws goes hand in hand with this. In particular, this is essential in order to prevent dominant market positions. At the same time, regulation will be necessary with regard to ethical boundaries in the use of artificial intelligence or algorithms. Finally, civil rights must be redefined and re-embedded – which is why Telefónica advocates a charter for digital rights that protects our fundamental values in the digital world. In the face of an internet without boundaries, solutions to upcoming challenges can only be achieved at global level. Therefore, international collaboration is vital.

We focus on people

There are numerous examples of Telefónica Deutschland living out this agenda here and now. In the section entitled “Strengthening life in the digital world”, our “Responsible Business Plan” also sets out clear targets focusing on people. They include topics such as data protection, freedom of information, digital inclusion and promotion of sustainable innovations. We are working hard to ensure customers retain sovereignty over their data and remain the masters of their digital lives. We only use data analysis and gain important findings for the environment and transport, for instance, if we have our customers' consent. That way, we are making a significant contribution to social innovation. At the same time, our internally developed Data Anonymisation Platform (DAP) guarantees data security. For many years, we have been committed to ensuring that young people and older people, for instance, have access to an increasingly digital world and the skills to embrace it. We are advancing technologies for easier integration of people, equipment and machinery in the private and industrial world. Our aim is to help customers bring new digital products into being and support business models. And we are already actively involved in the public debate on the social and ethical aspects of digitalisation. The Telefónica BASECAMP opened in 2011 has become established as a digital hotspot and a discussion centre in Berlin, and we comment on digital-policy issues in our blog UdL Digital.

The manifesto as a basis for constructive discussion

Even so, we are only at the start of the road to a new digital deal. Wide-ranging, intensive, occasionally provocative but always constructive discussions in all areas of society will be a vital part of this. The manifesto certainly doesn't provide any definitive answers. But it does identify the core problems and approaches. I firmly believe that this forms an essential basis for the debate we need. And I can promise you that Telefónica Deutschland will be involved in it. With courage, passion, forceful arguments and a clear objective. After all, digitalisation exists for the people – not the other way round.”