Don't be scared to speak up in Brussels, Berec chairman tells successor

19 December 2017 2:03pm
5 EU Flags

18 December 2017. By Magnus Franklin.

National telecom regulators should not be afraid of making their voices heard in Brussels, the outgoing head of an umbrella group for the watchdogs has said — even if it means upsetting powerful players along the way.

It’s a defiant message from Sébastien Soriano, who has spent this year chairing the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, or Berec, and who made a controversial effort to nudge lawmakers during his term. He will hand over to Austria’s Johannes Gungl on Jan. 1.

"I'm not lobbying but working for general interest," the Frenchman told MLex over a coffee in Brussels last week. Taking a stand when a new EU telecom law was being negotiated was "important to make us more credible in the public debate."

In May, Berec published 12 technical papers offering a detailed perspective on the new law, which is still under debate and is set to shape the sector for the coming decade.

The papers triggered a furious response from many telecom operators, who thought Berec was overstepping its mandate as a technical resource for lawmakers and making a foray into lobbying for its own interest.

But, Soriano said, portraying Berec as a lobbyist in this context was misunderstanding the group's role. "We are not side by side with incumbent operators, but really on top of the story," he said. Berec is "not one party lobbying against another."

His advice to Gungl for next year? "Not to be shy and shut up because powerful people were annoyed about what was said."

It was important for Berec to develop a “voice” to influence policymaking in such a crucial and complex area as telecoms, Soriano said, though it should be used only "when really there are important things that are at stake and the regulators' voice is really needed."

"Telecom networks are the infrastructure on top of which the digital economy, and digital society is being built," he said. “Like roads, bridges and railways in the 20th century, in the 21st century networks are a common good and have to be developed in a certain direction."

Regulating with data

To that end, one of Soriano's themes has been helping people understand the importance of "nudging" consumers and markets in the right direction, which sometimes requires softer tools than hard obligations and intervention in the market. This softer flavor of regulation could take the form of gathering and publishing data, helping consumers make better choices.

"Using data to nudge the market and nudge people is a good solution," Soriano said. "It is not just a question in telecoms, but in any complex environment.”

He also expressed his frustration at the sometimes difficult process of getting things done in the EU and overcoming national barriers, though he said these issues could be overcome.

"If you are clear about your vision, if you are confident and create consistent, long-term dialogue, you can get things moving," he said. "OK, it's complicated, but doesn’t mean you shouldn't get involved."