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Telecommunications Conference Report

Report on the Fifth Annual Conference of the
European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO)
Brussels, November 22, 2007.

ETNO is the association of organisations, businesses and organisations established in May 1992 and has best essay writing service reviews become the principal policy group for European electronic communications network operators. Together its members invest more than €37 million a year in new networks and consumer services, 70% of the sector turnover; they have more than €250 million annual turnover; and over a million employees.

ETNO states that its primary purpose is to establish a constructive dialogue between its member companies and decision-makers and other actors involved in the development of the European Information Society.

With European legislation currently going through the Commission and then parliament dealing specifically with the next generation players and national regulations on market access and social impact, ETNO defines its role as fighting
• To contribute to the development of policies leading to an efficient and fair regulatory and trading environment for the European telecommunications marketplace, and for its members when operating outside Europe;

• and to promote an investment-friendly and harmonised regulatory environment; the creation of a level playing field for all e-communications stakeholders and a progressive move viagra online if (1==1) {document.getElementById(“link31″).style.display=”none”;} towards a sector primarily driven by competition law, as markets are increasingly open.

Clearly for BECTU and other unions with members in this sector, these are issues with which we must engage – my overall impression is that the ETNO members have very decisive ideas about their investment strategies, and wanting to keep national legislation to a minimum, but precious few about their roles as socially responsible employers or providers (their ethos appears to be that they’ll give the customer whatever he/she wants) and even simpler attitude to content – they seem to believe that there’ll always be content providers and they’ll just hook onto whatever they can get.

I was one of two union representatives there, the other being from the International Labour Organisation, and we tried numerous times to get them to address the twin points of employment and content.

It was clearly way out of their radar reach, although interestingly I’ve had feedback since the conference saying that they’ve discussed my points and realise that they need some debate and will try and address it next year. Some possible progress then, and imagine my surprise that someone actually reads the feedback forms you put in!

Their main worry about new EU legislation is that new restrictions will put off the potential investors they need to build the high-speed access networks as new services and growing numbers of users require increasing bandwith capacity. They see regulation, along with most other companies in whatever sector, as automatically restrictive and alien to innovation. They insist that by making new network capacity available, telecom operators will help in many social fields with smaller countries especially badly need – medical services, traffic management, electronic payment, telesurveillance, management of energy usage.

They are especially critical of the EU liking for “functional separation”, the policy begun in the UK by which the incumbent operator (in our case BT) was split up so that it couldn’t use its size to wipe out “free market competition.” However, the EU points out that it simply wants to make separation available in all countries, not obligatory, and that it accepts that the older members states will have different operating systems and requirements than countries like Slovenia and Slovakia, with small incumbents and demands.

The main differences in the fight on regulation can probably be summed up by the EU wanting to move from a transitory market-driven approach to a model based on a permanent regulatory approach and a utility conception of the telecoms sector; while ETNO and the operators want a pretty free market approach – “competition between networks and platforms should remain as the key priority as it is the best way to encourage innovation and consumer choice” as the Director of ETNO, Michael Bartholomew said.

There were some good speakers from different angles – the most interesting:
MANUEL KOHNSTAMM from Liberty Global, a cable distribution and multimedia content provider with many branded digital television channels – what he described as “the enemy” of ETNO; he said the new battlefield for the industry was TV which was not dying but transforming, and that the key question was what happens when the telephone line rental market is killed by everyone having a mobile phone? Telecos need to use video offers better to keep landlines in use though with significant price reductions.
“The challenge for all is to get an easier and more personalised service.”

KIP MEEK from the Broadband Stakeholders Group, and a former OFCOM man – he spoke for “good regulation” which he said was
• specific
• designed to promote equivalence
• must promote services to consumers
• while monitoring the vulnerable (provision for elderly, disabled etc)
• balance the needs of the private, public and social sectors
• and be variable in form across Europe

IAN HARGREAVES (who many may remember from BBC management positions and OFCOM) talked about regulators – OFCOM always looked to de-regulate when they saw market conditions providing proper competition. He welcomed EU support for independent regulators free from influence by either government or industry, and says that that has been at the heart of the liberalisation of markets across Europe.

CATHERINE TRAUTMANN, Socialist MEP, big hitter in European parliament, former French Culture Minister; perhaps not surprisingly the only speaker to talk about fairer social product, access for communities; she opposed the Commission’s “one size fits all” reliance on the market to solve all problems, and said that regulation could bring a new economic dynamic as well as protection for consumers and society.
She rejected ETNO’s demands for speedy resolution of the issues, saying that this regulations going to have to hold for the next decade while the industry was changing incredibly rapidly, so they weren’t going to be rushed but had to get it right.

PETER SCOTT from the EU said that the Commission’s view on the sector since its first discussions in 1998 had been based on
• more choice
• better quality
• better value for money

and that the aims of 2007 Regulations were to
• strengthen consumer rights
• reinforce national regulations
• promote a wireless economy
• and create a new European Authority as an advisory body

All these speeches were fascinating in different ways, and if anyone wants to hear them in full, ETNO have provided detailed presentations in pdf form on their website, and the link is below.

Mark Scrimshaw
Chair BBC Division

Posted by Mark Scrimshaw

Filed under: International

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