To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it’s competition stupid.
New ECTA Chairman Gijs Phoelich (pictured) does not have the clout of the former US president, but he has a clear and the simple message that Clinton would empathise with.
It’s a view that permeates through everything that the industry body, which represents more than 100 so-called challenger operators, says and does.
Phoelich, the Eurofiber General Counsel and Company Secretary, took over the reins of ECTA this month.
His message is as follows: only competition drives investment and innovation.
The new Chairman has charged himself with making ECTA more noticed in Brussels and getting the results he says it needs.
Phoelich’s appointment comes amid a crucial 12 months for telecoms regulation.
The European Commission’s wide-ranging market reform is slated to become legislation by the end of the year.
Phoelich says he is hopeful rather than certain that the timeframe will be met.
Last week the European Parliament endorsed the reform’s 16 commitments, which include more harmonised management of spectrum, incentives to invest in high-speed broadband, and the creation of a more level playing field between telcos and online players.
ECTA is particularly concerned with the fibre market. It says bottlenecks “still persist” in the last mile of the fixed broadband network. Phoelich says it is fighting the same battles that happened when DSL lines were opened up over a decade ago.
“We are pretty sure that if we are able to maintain regulation that assures access to [incumbent-built] networks then we will be able to pursue a competitive fibre market that we need and end users need,” he says.
“We also think that this is required in order for the EU to meet its Digital Agenda goals.”
With the potential structural separation of BT’s Openreach division a newsworthy topic, it is a little surprising when Phoelich does not jump at the chance to endorse this view.
He says: “We are not per se in favour of structural separation...we acknowledge that it could be applicable in certain geographical areas.”
Phoelich defines “fair” competition as a level playing field where end users benefit.
If that’s rather simplistic, he says another way to measure it is to benchmark how much more challengers are able to invest.
What ECTA fears most is the re-monopolisation by incumbents. It believes such a scenario is a “serious and imminent” risk, despite Phoelich saying that all the discussions he is having with stakeholders in Brussels favour competition rather than consolidation.
ECTA would appear to have a friend in Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s Competition Commissioner, whose hardline stance scuppered a deal between Telenor and TeliaSonera in Denmark last year.
“Every player should be able to gain market share based on a good proposition, fair price and innovative services,” says Phoelich.
“Vestager is also in favour of this so this is very helpful for us and we really appreciate it.”
Although he successfully sticks to the competition theme, he goes off message once.
Responding to a question about what he would do if he was the CEO of one of the incumbents he is keen to keep in check, Phoelich says: “I’d rather have an open network with players offering services on my network than trying to fill it myself.”
But he is careful to point out: “This is very much a personal view.”