Dutch infrastructure sector seeks closer collaboration with government

Although the Netherlands government is increasingly realising how vital the country’s digital infrastructure is, it lacks sufficient policy-making and vision, say industry associations

Representatives of the Netherlands’ digital infrastructure sector have called on the government to realise a “New Economy”. According to the Dutch Data Centre Association, the Dutch Cloud Community, Digitale Infrastructuur Nederland and the Fiber Carrier Association, the climate crisis, energy crisis and skyrocketing inflation show that a substantial shift in policy is necessary. 

In a manifesto, the industries highlight five core characteristics that they see as essential for a New Economy: social added value, sustainablity, digital, inclusiveness and openness. The organisations stress a focus on sustainable growth, renewable energy and efficient energy distribution. Their aim is to encourage the development of sustainable buildings and systems so that the country’s digital infrastructure uses innovations that minimise energy consumption. 

Achieving change requires a bold and consistent approach, said Ruud Alaerds, managing director of the Dutch Cloud Community. “That’s why we wrote the manifesto, setting out how we as a sector see this New Economy ahead of us. But also, what role we as a digital infrastructure sector can play in it, because the ultimate goal is to cooperate more closely and earlier with the government.”

Effective cooperation between public and private entities is essential to maximise expertise and implementation power, said Alaerds. “Otherwise, ambitions will remain stuck in fine words and good intentions, when the stakes are so high.”

Specifically, this means that everything has to be done sooner, he said. “Recognising the parties involved, consultation, agreements, the feedback of those agreements. Everything has to be set in concrete so that all parties stick to it.” 

Alaerds said this also gives the industry clarity on where it stands. “Because in one respect, we are a partner of the government, providing the digital infrastructure for vital processes in the Netherlands. But we can also very quickly end up in the dock. Just think of the obligation to take online terrorist content and child pornography offline. When it comes to that, we don’t do things quickly enough in the eyes of the government.”

According to Alaerds, good progress is being made in this area. For instance, the government shares concerns about the online dissemination of radical, extremist and/or anti-democratic opinions, but does not include them in the tasks of the Authority to Counter Terrorist and Child Pornographic Material (ATKM). “That was a point we firmly argued against, as it is not physically or operationally feasible for the cloud sector to comply with the current laws and regulations for removing online terrorist content,” said Alaerds. 

The regulation states that cloud parties must remove radical, extremist and/or anti-democratic expressions from their servers within one hour. “If you want to be able to do that at all, it means you have to monitor your customers’ content on your servers full-time,” he said. “Something that violates the GDPR – that makes the enforceability of the regulation particularly difficult. As an industry, we therefore welcome the fact that these two issues – terrorist content and child pornography – will no longer be assigned to the same authority.”

With the New Economy manifesto, the industry associations are trying to push the government to step up better cooperation. “The troops are ready to share their knowledge, but it is difficult to get to the table in time,” said Alaerds. 

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Yet there is increasing awareness in the government of how crucial the Netherlands’ digital infrastructure is. “You can see that from the Budget Bill presented earlier this month,” said Alaerds. “For instance, there is a firm commitment to invest in our country’s cyber resilience. It also mentions the importance of the digital economy and the underlying infrastructure. What I find unfortunate is that it stops there. The how and where to move towards a New Economy remains unclear.”

A key issue the government needs to be aware of is the dominance of US tech companies. The Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) recently conducted a market analysis of cloud services in the Netherlands.  It concluded that the Netherlands is ahead of the rest of Europe in cloud deployment. It is expected that in the next three years, the market for cloud services in Europe, and in the Netherlands, will double.

But the ACM noted that three US cloud providers have too dominant a market share. The reason for this is a lack of interoperability and portability. These issues create barriers for users to combine multiple clouds and to switch cloud providers easily. This can distort the market.  

“I totally agree,” said Alaerds. “But just noting that this is the case is insufficient. We need follow-up research on how to ensure that the dominant position of these parties can be broken and opportunities created for European and Dutch providers.”

But that is not so easy, he said, because the dominance of the US tech giants is partly due to the fact that the European market is hugely fragmented. “There are not many parties that operate truly pan-European,” he added. “You often see that only a neighbouring country is included in the strategy.”

The Netherlands government values market forces and only makes corrections when things go out of control, said Alaerds. “That, too, has contributed to the fact that now American, not European, organisations have such a dominant position.

“We should encourage much more here in the Netherlands, because there are plenty of parties who are innovative and capable. We are brimming with suppliers of software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service solutions and digital services, but the problem is that these are mostly SMEs that are less visible, and often operate on a small scale. But in fact, we have the same innovation power here as in the US, only here it is not in one big tech company, but spread across a lot of different companies.”

Alaerds said he hopes the government will work more closely with local businesses in this too. “When we manage to develop strong organisations in the Netherlands, we can put them on the map autonomously and we are less dependent on foreign players,” he added.

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