EC questions Belgian Open Cable plans
Published: 08.18 Europe/London, June 22, 2011 by Robert Briel

he European Commission has expressed a number of concerns over a proposal by the Belgian audiovisual regulators to open up the larger cable networks in Belgium to third parties. The plans would oblige Belgacom and cable operators to allow alternative operators to compete more effectively in the markets for both cable and the xDSL. Cable Europe and Telenet reacted favourably to the Commission’s doubts.

Under the proposed measure, Belgacom would have to give competitors access for to its broadband network (using the old copper lines) and cable operators, Telenet, Brutélé, Numéricable, Tecteo and AIESH would have to give access for competitors to their cable networks.

Neelie Kroes, European Commission VP for the Digital Agenda said in a statement: “I fully share the objective of the Belgian audiovisual and telecoms regulators to enhance competition for the benefit of Belgian consumers, who are entitled to more choice and lower prices. However, regulators have to carefully examine market developments and avoid imposing disproportionate obligations on market operators, as this may create unnecessary burdens and ultimately stifle investment and innovation. The Commission has therefore asked the Belgian regulators to carefully examine the competitive conditions in the markets concerned and provide further evidence for their proposed measures”.

In response, Cable Europe said: “We are encouraged by the European Commission’s statement today referring to the wholesale broadcasting transmission market in Belgium. The methodologies and remedies put forward by the regulators have been questioned by the Commission, which comes after a similar situation in the Netherlands where courts overruled the regulator. The Commission observes that the broadcast market in Belgium possesses a satisfactory level of competition and has signaled the need for further evidence for the regulator’s proposed measures. This is further demonstrated by the remarkable level of platform competition which benefits the consumer.”

Telenet also welcomed the announcement. “Telenet is encouraged by the European Commission’s statement today, which disagrees with the methodologies and remedies put forward by the regulators. The Commission believes that the broadcast market in Belgium has already a satisfactory level of competition as demonstrated by the remarkable level of platform competition.”

The Commission has expressed a number of concerns about the Belgian regulators’ proposals.

In particular, it has criticised the regulators’ analysis of the broadcasting markets. It has also asked the regulators to take better account of market developments in the light of recent entry of competitors into the market (in particular, Belgacom’s IPTV), the trend towards multi-play and converged broadband-broadcasting offers and the proposed regulation of Belgacom (which should allow third parties to offer both broadband and IPTV services over Belgacom’s network).

The Commission further asked the regulators to justify better the proportionality of the obligation on cable operators to provide an analogue resale offer, also in the light of the declining importance of analogue TV. Moreover, the Commission has asked the Belgian regulators to justify the proposed obligation to provide such access also to Belgacom, which is quite successfully developing its IPTV and has a strong presence in the neighbouring telecom markets.

Concerning the broadband markets, the Commission invited the Belgian regulators to ensure that the proposed regulation does not prevent access to offers over next generation fibre networks and to take into account the competitive pressure exercised at retail level by the cable operators.

(On the picture the poster of the 1st Digital Agenda Assembly next to a Thunderstreak FU-30 plane; picture courtesy EC)