EC digital agenda boss, Neelie Kroes, has fleshed out her attitude to competition, broadband and cloud at the European Cable Communications Association in Brussels: and at least half of it is not a message that either telecoms nor cable operators particularly want to hear. By Ian Scales.
Yet again, back at Mobile World Congress, telecom chiefs such as Vittoria Colao of Vodafone, were vocalising the old "we're over-regulated" plea to a friendly audience of the like-minded. Colao even went so far as to imply a network operator investment strike was on the cards if so-called 'over-regulation' (that is, regulatory change that shunts less easy money to telcos) was pursued by the commission. What he meant was that termination and roaming charges were being reduced and phased out... ouch.
It's not liked but is probably accepted as inevitable. But the big telcos would like to cast the move as a product of overbearing 'regulation' - all the better to fight more of it if and when it arrives. In fact it was simply the commission busting long-standing collusion on prices and should arguably have been done years ago.
Others had a traditional kick to deliver at Barcelona. Airtel's Sunil Bharti Mittal claimed that YouTube was consuming a massive amount of resources on 'our' network. "Somebody's got to pay for that," he said, ignoring the fact that users are already paying for 'that'. Mittal is in favour of an "interconnect charge" for the right to deliver content to operators' subscribers.
This argument gets tedious. Year after year the same stock phrases like 'free ride' are aired. Are they formulated by a secret carrier PR network and the world's telco execs have all undertaken to retail them ad infinitum until the world starts believing? I'm beginning to wonder.
But it seems that Neelie Kroes, for one, is refusing to be cowed by this concerted effort - at least for the moment.
The vice president of the European Commission (EC) for the Digital Agenda used the European Cable Communications Association conference to in Brussels recently to rebut the arguments that decreased regulation will help investment.
"They claim we should grant operators a regulatory holiday... from the stress of innovating in a competitive market and a return to an 'idyllic' business environment sheltered from real competition," she said, before launching into a riff on the wonders of competition. And 'real' competition too, not just a bit of me-too at about the same price.
"It's not enough to let different retailers rebrand and resell wholesale products that are all, fundamentally, the same.. we should open up markets to the maximum extent possible, stimulate competition in every link of the chain, and deliver the maximum possible consumer choice and the maximum possible market opportunity."
She said that if networks were open to competition then consumers tend to be happy to pay a fair price for services.
If carrier executives were looking for signs of sympathy and a willingness to budge a little to meet concerns, they didn't find it in that speech. It was more the sound of someone who had heard all this special pleading before and wasn't going to fall for it again.
But Kroes was more upbeat about 'cloud' and even fitted the metaphor out with shelves (for users to put their content on/in) and presumably a nice colour scheme (we think Scandinavian furniture would be better).
Kroes said she was all for the cloud movement, "not because it’s a new trendy buzzword, but because it's where the future will be: and that change needs to happen not to us, but with us. With many other technologies we've seen problems getting in the way – fragmentation, lock-in, and public sector ineffectiveness. The cloud computing strategy I'm currently preparing will anticipate those problems so we can prevent them. But if we want to use the cloud effectively, that underlines all the more the need to have robust broadband networks in support."
Opening things up, not suffocating competition, was the way to promote investment, she said, .
"Let's unblock the broadband bottlenecks. And let's watch the innovation and creativity pour out."
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