Telecoms regulator under attack

 In News, Telecoms

ANACOM, the Portuguese telecoms regulator, continued to receive a sustained barrage of criticism last week calling into question its very existence.

Mário Vaz, the CEO of Vodafone Portugal, has accused the watchdog of “playing to the popular gallery” by denigrating the country’s telecoms operators and has paved the way for a debate as to wether Portugal even needs a regulator in its current shape which is not fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Mário Vaz said in an interview with Negócios and Antena 1 radio that he has “never felt so saddened” in 28 years of working in telecommunications by the way the sector is “bashed every day by ANACOM”.
Portugal’s telecoms regulator says it will start its delayed auctions of 5G frequency licences in April, even as the major players warned they would go to court to challenge rules they say unfairly favour new entrants into the Portuguese market.
ANACOM has reserved a spectrum in the 900 MHz and 1,800 Mhz bands for new entrants — part of what it says is its push to encourage competition, lower consumer prices and improve services.
Overall Portugal is hoping to raise at least €238 million through the auctions that were delayed from early 2020 by the pandemic and are now expected to last into January, with licenses handed out in the first quarter.
But in the televised programme Capital Conversations, the Vodafone Portugal president asked wether it really made sense to have a regulator “with these characteristics” and with a budget of €69 million which the country could put to better use.”
“Either this lack of discussion with the regulator is recoverable, or the point of no return has arrived and can only be resolved through litigation,” he said, adding that he had had two meetings with the president of ANACOM over the past 18 months.
Despite ANACOM’s criticism of a lack of competition, the regulator has praised agreements made between Vodafone and Nos, calling it an example of what could be repeated elsewhere.
The agreements, he said, were made without regulation, made by the operators with the goal of guaranteeing efficiency, rapidity, and speed to develop their networks.
“It is just as well we did our work well. I have been in this sector for 28 years, I was one of the first to be there when competition entered the market, actually, we were the first competitors in Portugal’s telecommunications sector as Telecom. I’ve seen 3G and 4G too,” said Vaz who has been at the helm at Vodafone since 2012 when market convergence took place.
“At that time Vodafone hardly had any presence in the fixed market. We went to the market practically alone, without help from the regulator and persuaded shareholders to make millions of euros in investments,” he said. “We made agreements at the time with Portugal Telecom, and later with NOS, to bring networks to the millions of houses we have coverage for today, and I have never felt so saddened as now to see the way this sector is criticised every day by the regulator,” Mário Vaz added.
Earlier this month, the ANACOM president João Cadete de Matos said that the regulator would not be “pressured” following an avalanche of criticisms from operators and insisted that it did want the sector to be profitable in Portugal.
He spoke at a press conference for the presentation of the regulations for the 5G auction that took place in Lisbon on 5 November.
“This pressure has no effect, clearly, and one should not confuse unjustified pressure with the ability to hear all interested parties,” he said adding that he was available to hear all of the telecoms companies in the sector.
“We are always available to hear the interests of the market leading companies and the lesser ones, we should hear all of them,” said João Cadete Matos.
Over the last year, ANACOM, he said, had “listened hard to the municipal councils all over the country whose voices made it clear to the regulator that Portugal had to “correct the deficiencies,” such as weak rural coverage, “in its telecommunications sector.”
He also said that legal actions brought by the telecoms giants would not force or put pressure on ANACOM.
“ANACOM has to think about all interested parties, but at the end of the day decisions have to be taken which are balanced and allow for investments to be profitable,” he said.
“We want investments in Portugal to have a return, we want to attract investments, both national and international,” he added.
João Cadete de Matos says it is an “aberration” that there are places in Portugal in which mobile network coverage is “dreadful” because of the existence of one operator, which is why he wants 95% of the population covered by 5G within five years time, and that one of the conditions for allowing new operators into the market is national roaming and that the telecoms operators will have no alternative but to share networks to achieve it.
“Portugal cannot lag behind and the operators must change the paradigm and fulfil their coverage obligations by tripling their investments and if shared the return will be more rapid,” he said. The competitive auction for 5G is due to be held in April.
The Anacom president said that by introducing 5G and allowing more than one operator in the market, telecoms prices for the end consumer would come down in price since competition would increase.