April 20, 2015 will be remembered as the day when minister Alexander Decroo announced the Digital Agenda for Belgium, but also the day on which the duopoly in the Belgian telecoms market was strengthened through Telenet’s takeover of Base.
We applaud the Belgian government’s objectives and the Digital Agenda. More start-ups and in general better protection for e-commerce and suchlike.
However, Minister Decroo must never forget that the Belgian internet sector depends greatly on the hosting sector. Infrastructure, legislation and hosting form the three cornerstones for success in our sector
Our sector certainly wants to contribute towards the success of the Digital Agenda. Minister Decroo must therefore not just listen to the access providers who are today helping to anchor down the Belgian market in a duopoly.
The Belgian hosting sector consists of a number of specialist, although smaller, participants. Smaller in every respect when compared to the large telecom companies. But together they take the lion’s share of the hosting market that has traditionally never been in the hands of the telecom giants.
It is therefore just as important that the Belgian government takes urgent steps towards legally guaranteeing net neutrality. As opposed to the independent hosting companies, the telecom companies have created a dominant position for themselves because of the heavy concentration of access to the internet. Completely hidden from view, the telecom providers can take measures affecting their networks that impact on users, whereby traffic to and from independent hosting companies is disadvantaged.
Over a number of years we have observed them taking over certain hosting companies, resulting in a dangerous situation arising in which they use their dominant positions in the net access market in order to disadvantage hosting competitors, or indeed put them out of business altogether. Reduced competition is not in the interests of the e-sector in our country and certainly does not align with the contents of the Digital Agenda.
The government now has an opportunity to clearly lay down the rules as a result of the takeover that occurred today. Net neutrality is one of the first rules that should be implemented.
The fact that we are right to be worried by the situation is emphasised by the fact that the ISPA, which is the Belgian ISP lobbying group, did not offer an official view on net neutrality. This is because an agreement does not exist within the ISPA between the small hosting companies who represent demands for proper net neutrality, which is in everybody’s interest, and the telecom companies who promote a form of net neutrality to the government, which contains a whole range of opportunities for increasing the various speeds available on the internet.
We therefore call on minister Decroo to take the legislative initiative as soon as possible in this respect and not just to listen to his Crown Council, but to the entire sector as well.