Big EU Phone Carriers Call for Shake-Up of Digital Regulation

  • Pallete, Richard, Colao demand incentives to invest in EU
  • Europe ‘technological subsidiary’ to U.S., Orange CEO says

Three of Europe’s largest phone companies on Monday called on the European Union to quicken its march toward a single set of rules for digital services and said that regulators in the bloc are too focused on keeping consumer prices low.

“There is an obsession with retail prices” among regulators, Vodafone Group Plc Chairman Vittorio Colao said at a conference in Santander, Spain. “We need less, lighter regulation, but we need competition. A little intervention is needed. Intervention is there to create good incentives to invest.”

Colao joined Stephane Richard, chairman of Orange SA, and Telefonica SA Chairman Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete on a panel discussing the creation of a single digital market in Europe. The executives want a faster process to approve mergers and acquisitions and a friendlier framework for companies to make infrastructure investments and ensure access to networks in countries were there is a dominant provider, such as a former monopoly.

European officials are pursuing a digital single market to allow citizens to access the same offerings in any country within the union. Currently, services such as video-streaming are subject to national rules and broadcasting rights. Tearing down regulatory walls and moving from 28 national markets to a single one could contribute 415 billion euros ($460 billion) annually to the EU economy, the European Commission estimates.

There appears to be certain “reluctance" within political institutions to enforce change, Pallete said.

Policy changes are needed because “Europe is a digital subsidiary of the U.S.,” Richard said. As an example, he pointed out that Apple Inc. currently has more cash on hand than the combined market value of the EU’s four largest phone companies and that the U.S. tech giant could buy Europe’s largest carriers if it wanted to.

“Leading politicians in Europe are very much aware that we need to do something, that we need a policy shift," Richard said. “At the top political level, there is a big awareness.”

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