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Orange’s Richard hits out at EC on antitrust probe

Stéphane Richard

Stéphane Richard

Orange CEO Stéphane Richard has hit out at the European Commission for what he sees as its obsession with antitrust rules aimed at curbing the power of former incumbent telcos.

Richard, speaking to French daily Le Figaro in the wake of the recent raids on the offices of several large European telcos including Orange as part of an investigation into whether the telecos are restricting access to the internet to companies that offer services using large amounts of data, said that, for the last 20 years, Brussels has only know how to do one thing – antitrust regulation.

In an interview with the paper, Richard said that Brussels seemed not to have realised that the world had changed from the days of monopoly incumbent telcos and that operators now worked in an ultracompetitive world that was seeing prices fall at the same time as operators were investing heavily in network infrastructure.

The EC’s interest in Orange’s practices followed allegations by US bandwidth provider Cogent Communications that Orange was restricting access to its content by privileging the traffic of its subsidiary Dailymotion over that of YouTube. Richard described the allegation as “false and grotesque” and questioned Cogent’s business practices, which he said were based on non-payment for networks that it used massively. Until last year, when the site was shut down, one of Cogent’s key customers was Megaupload, which directed users to pirated content.

Richard also attacked plans by EC vice-president Neelie Kroes to eliminate roaming charges for mobile services, which he said would cost Orange €300 million a year in lost profits. He said he welcomed plans to create a single telecoms market but that this remained for the moment a distant prospect, and called for a moratorium on lowering roaming prices until a full study on their economic impact was made.

Richard also criticised what he saw as favourable treatment of cable operators, who he said are expanding their fibre networks without the same obligation to open up to competitors that is placed on telcos.