A while back, I moved to Mobile Vikings as my mobile operator. I was quite enthusiastic. The picture looked idyllic. 2 Gb per month of data transfer seemed like an offer you cannot refuse, given the state of the Belgian mobile phone market, characterized by high prices, wicked contracts and not-so-honest salesmen. Mobile Vikings is a MVNO, using the KPN network in Belgium.
Tag Archives: Belgium
Dans un article précédent, j’analysais les faibles de la proposition ECOLO/Groen! de taxe forfaitaire sur les connexions Internet pour “dédouaner” le téléchargement illégal. Il y a aussi une autre “proposition de loi visant à promouvoir la création culturelle sur Internet” du sénateur MR Philippe Monfils, qui vise à instaurer un système semblable à la loi HADOPI en France. Il semble que les Belges soient forts pour copier ce qui se fait de plus mal à l’étranger.
Picture this: the still state-owned (51% of shares) Belgian incumbent telecom and Internet operator, Belgacom, is not a dominant player on the ISP market, according to the Brussels appeals court (see also here).
It is obvious to every inhabitant of Belgium that the incumbent is everywhere. It owns all the copper pairs to homes and a good deal of the fibre. No single Internet or telephony operator can get into the business without transiting through the Belgacom network at some stage. As expected, the infrastructure owner is not keen to open up its infrastructure to competitors and has used every trick in the book to slow down competition. As a result, alternative operators, be it in telephony or Internet access, have a ridiculous market share. Belgacom has a more than 70% share of the residential Internet access market. Belgium has one of the most expensive Internet access offer in Europe, nearly twice the price of France, for example.
The telecoms regulator, IBPT, is often depicted as a weak one and often accused of favouring Belgacom. It came with some surprise a few months back that the regulator ruled that Belgacom had to open up its ADSL and VDSL infrastructure to the competition. Under the EU competition rules, it is foreseen that the infrastructure owner and dominant operator has to open its infrastructure to allow competitors to offer their services, too.
Belgacom wishes to diversify its income sources and launched an ambitious project to deliver triple play services. This includes high definition and pay TV. For this to happen they needed to upgrade their DSL network. They embarked in an infrastructure project to lay fibre optic cabling up to street cabinets (FTTC) and deliver VDSL2 connectivity from there to the customers premises. This has actually proven very successful. Belgacom was greatly helped by the fact that the cable TV operator in the Southern part of Belgium, Voo, has an outdated and poor quality network.
It may be that IBPT did not make a rigorous enough study of the marketplace. Still, I cannot understand judges refuse to see what is obvious to all. The net result is that Belgacom’s competitors will have even less opportunities to offer quality services and that the incumbent’s market share will grow even more. For customers, this will mean less choice and higher prices. This is sad news in a country where the unemployment rate have risen quite sharply due to the global economic downturn. It is nearly impossible these days to apply for a job if you do not have an Internet connection and e-mail address. The most vulnerable part of the population will be the first victim.
Some ISPs would do anything to gain a new customer.
Last December, I switched ISPs. Although my previous one, Dommel, provided a good and stable internet connection, their customer service staff was totally broken. They seemed totally unwilling to answer any written question, be it in French, English or Dutch. Further, they used the oldish ADSL infrastructure from the incumbent, Belgacom, and thus could only provide a 4 Mbit/sec connection. With 6 computers at home, this proved to be slow at times.
Hence, I took the opportunity to move to another ISP, Scarlet, which promised 20 Mbit/sec. I was aware that theorical speeds may not always be reached due to different factors like copper line length, etc.
Much to my surprise, I was informed after the contract was signed that I would only get 6Mbit. Scarlet’s tech support confirmed today that the local phone exchange to which I am connected has not been upgraded to ADSL2+. This ISP knew at the time they presented the electronic contract to me that they were unable to deliver what they promised.
Their sign-in form stated “Congratulations, you can be connected to the ADSL20 network […] The maximum download speed is dependent on the distance from the local exchange, your computer configuration and its cabling “. Nowhere does it state that it is dependent on the exchange infrastructure.
The tech support guy was not able either to tell me when they expect the local exchange to be upgraded. This looks like ultra confidential information. Actually, we know more about battle plans in the Middle East, Iraq or Afganisthan than about an ISP’s infrastructure upgrade strategy.
Belgium once prided itself to be at the forefront of broadband deployment. If only it could be done by professionals who care about customers …
The next step will be to file a complaint to the telecom ombudsman. I do not expect much of a improvement, though.
Le régulateur belge de télécoms, l’IBPT, prévoit d’obliger l’opérateur historique à proposer une offre ADSL2+ sur son infrastructure pour les fournisseurs d’accès Internet qui l’utilisent (soit désormais 100% du marché aux particuliers).
J’ai donc adressé le courrier suivant au régulateur :
Concerne: Projet de decision du conseil de l’IBPT du 12 mars 2008 concernant BROBA 2008 ADSL2+
En tant que consommateur, je ne puis que vous encourager à continuer dans la voie de cette décision.
Au vu des expériences dans les pays voisins, l’ADSL2+ représente une réelle opportunité pour les consommateurs d’obtenir une réelle concurrence, et par voie de conséquence de meilleurs prix et service. Les tarifs actuellement pratiqués en Belgique sont largement supérieurs à nos voisins. Voir notamment:
Il est important, d’un point de vue démocratique, qu’une gamme plus large d’utilisateurs aient la possibilité d’accéder à Internet. Le prix de l’abonnement est un des facteurs qui entre en ligne de compte.
Face à un opérateur qui a toujours du mal à renoncer à son monopole, il faut un régulateur déterminé. Et cela d’autant plus que Belgacom vient de mettre la main sur l’infrastructure de Scarlet, devenant donc, de facto, le seul opérateur d’infrastructure DSL en Belgique.
Avec mes plus sincères salutations.