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27 september 2016

« Telecom: invest or die » by Sebastien Soriano, Chairman of Arcep, published on Medium (27th September 2016)  

Two weeks ago, M. Juncker delivered his State of the Union address and pointed out that connectivity should be one of the top priorities so that every European citizen and business can fully benefit from the digital revolution.

If we all agree that, in order to boost connectivity, investment in the telecom sector?—?fixed and mobile?—?will be key, there has been much debate over the past years about how to promote it. I have heard many major operators claiming that European markets were overregulated and too crowded to support investment. For them, the way to high-speed connectivity is paved with deregulation and mergers.

On the eve of the Telecoms Review, what I wish to stress, as a regulator, is that opposing like this investment to telecom regulation is a complete non-sense. On the contrary, opening telecom markets to competition has been, for the last two decades, essentially a matter of how to open and secure investment opportunities. Where our position as regulators differs from incumbents’one is that we want these opportunities to be open to all, not only to people in the place.

I strongly believe in entrepreneurship as the essential driver of the digital revolution. I consider risk taking and innovation?—?of all kinds?—?as fundamental pillars to build tomorrow’s networks. And this is certainly what made the opening of the telecom markets in Europe such a success.

Is it now the end of the story? Look at all the technologies in competition to reach ultrafast broadband or to connect the Internet of things. Look at the widening ecosystem of stakeholders bearing telecom projects?—?local authorities, mesh communities, tech giants… Closing doors now would be a huge mistake for Europe. We need all this energy, and the right public policies to direct it into the way of the general interest.

Being popular amongst operators is not part of regulatory objectives. Competition, in particular, puts operators under pressure… and stress. But here again, beware of simplifications. For regulators, competition does not only deal with low prices but also with good networks.

All over the world, telecom regulators are currently engaged in transparency initiatives, with the ambition to provide users with more information about quality of services, performance and coverage of networks. A new toolbox is being designed, made of crowdsourcing, open data, etc… A kind of “data based regulation” is emerging, in complement to classical regulatory obligations.

This concretely means that consumers are more and more in a position to choose their operators taking into account the efforts consented in the networks. In other words, regulators can also promote monetization of the investments. To some extent and more provocatively, our job is also to make operators face an “invest or die” dilemma.

Feeding sterile oppositions will go nowhere. Let us join forces to make Europe one of the best connected places in the world.

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