No-one expected her to go quietly and Neelie Kroes, the out-going European Commission’s vice president for the Digital Agenda, did not disappoint. Speaking to the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), last week in Brussels, she let the major European telcos have it – with both barrels … Like John Wayne in a bar-room disagreement, Kroes waded straight in, stating her speech could be entitled “Adapt or die: What I would do if I ran a telecom company.” She went on to hit the assembled delegates hard stating “sometimes I think the telecoms sector is its own worst enemy”.
Warming to her theme, (and practically blowing on her knuckles), she told the telcos that they “have to change”. “What is the telecoms sector’s relationship to that digital future?” she asked. “Will you be leading us there? Or will you be dragged along behind, against your will, resisting until the last?”
In addition, , she urged operators to change their views of Over the Top players in the sector, and stressed that digital content providers are a key motivator behind consumer use of broadband services. How many European consumers would want ever faster broadband if there were no over the top services? She asked. “If there were no Facebook, no YouTube, no Netflix, no Spotify? OTT players are the ones driving digital demand, demand for your services! That is something you can work with, not against.”
Kroes, aware of her standing among the telcos, admitted to her audience that they are probably ““all looking forward to the very near future, when the Juncker Commission takes office, when you won’t have to put up with me anymore.” She also noted that her role will be spread across three different men: Günther Oettinger, Andrus Ansip and Jyrki Katainen – an indication of the expanding importance of the digital agenda for Europe.
“This is a project that will continue under the next mandate; as Jean-Claude Juncker has made clear. It is a project that can ensure our digital future, where a strong telecoms sector supports every European. That is what I long for, and that is what all of you should long for too” she said, with a slight trace of menace in her voice …
I was lucky enough to MC Neelie at a 5G press conference earlier in the year. She may not be liked by the telecoms sector but she does command tremendous respect. Needless to say, these are all themes that will be picked up at The Great Telco Debate, now just over a month away, http://www.telcodebate.com, only this time the telcos will have the right of reply. One of the items on the table may well be whether Neelie has prepared Europe better for the digital future where other regions are still protecting their telecoms players and their old habits.