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ICT world gathers in Budapest

An October 12-15 conference here, organized by a UN agency, put Budapest and digital business in the spotlight.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán checks out an exhibition at the ITU Telecom World conference on October 12.

Orbán suggests ‘Google tax’

Pushing an idea the press has dubbed a “Google tax”, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told the opening session of the ITU Telecom World conference in Budapest that foreign companies profiting from Hungary’s digital economy should contribute to the country. Orbán also noted that the ICT sector’s 21-22% contribution to GDP makes the weight of the digital economy within Hungary higher than the EU average. He said the country aims to provide every household with broadband internet access by 2018, which makes business sense: According to the European Commission, a 10% increase in broadband penetration raises GDP by 1-1.5%.

Government officials and information and communication technology (ICT) professionals from around the world came to Budapest’s Hungexpo exhibition center October 12-15 for an international meeting with the proclaimed goal of “making ideas go further, faster to make the world better, sooner”.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency responsible for ICT-related issues that is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, has organized ITU Telecom World for 40 years. The conference allows for discussion of a broad range of topics, with the most common being access to digital services and goods, regulation, and growth.

“I think it is a powerful message and feedback for Hungary and the whole region that ITU brought its jubilee world conference to Budapest. The future is present in Hungary, and Hungary is a hub of the European ICT industry right now,” Kerstin Günther, managing director of Deutsche Telekom’s Pan-Net and chair of the Board of Directors of Magyar Telekom said at the conference opening.

The event, said to have attracted more than 250 leaders from 88 countries, featured showy exhibitions and some events that may have seemed like formalities, but discussions taking place at ITU Telecom World gatherings often set trends in the digital economy, internet, and technology in the future.

In global competition, the European telecom industry has been weakening for a while because of a highly fragmented market structure and the difficulty of attracting capital, Magyar Telekom CEO Christopher Mattheisen said. In a session on integrating digital markets, Mattheisen said regulators still tend to treat the sector like utilities, and are often behind the facts a few cycles. Unless imbalances are corrected, European companies won’t be able to invest, he added.

Among the many pavilions on display, some of the most spacious and spectacular were those from South Korea, China, and Saudi Arabia. The Hungarian exhibition was strong on invention and application – with several developers demonstrating prototypes showcasing the use of the Internet of Things or other digital solutions. “There are huge opportunities that are coming out of technology today and Hungary will benefit from them as much as any other country,” Mattheisen told the Budapest Business Journal.