Bééé-Bééé-Bééélgacom

In the Nigel Farage speech against the EU president Herman van Rompuy he not only succeeds in insulting the EU-president in a relatively amusing way, but he also points to the silliness of the Belgian nationstate. And I’m not talking about the six parliaments and unstable federal governments (elections approximately every two years, latest on June 9th 2010) but their telecoms industry.

The former state monopoly of Belgium is called Belgacom. They own all the copper networks. Twelve years after the deregulation of the telecoms industry they are getting larger and larger market shares in the ADSL sector (currently 77%).

There’s a few cable operators. The operator Telenet owns all the infrastructure. They are also the largest service provider in the cable sector.

Fibre in Belgium is not common. I haven’t in fact seen any regular provider of fibre connections. Belgacom started experimenting cautiously with FTTH last year.

Belgacom has now decided that it’s a good idea to raise the prices for all services except TV. But why?! Belgium already has 50% more expensive services than the European average! Even though Spain is worse, it does put me off.

For this amount of money, surely you can at least do unlimited downloading? Well yes, if you have the Belgacom rental of €56 per month you can, since March 2010, do unlimited downloading. The number of computers per household is limited to four in the contract. The contract is enough to keep most consumers in line. But cable then? Telenet recently adjusted the problem with consumers trying to escape otherwise proliferent download limits. The Belgian telecoms minister has boldly criticized both companies for lying about how unlimited their services actually ain’t.

With the amount of money Belgian consumers are charged for their communication services, you would expect the employees of the telecoms enterprises to be either well-paid or large in numbers. Yesterday they went on strike for working overtime every day and also having to work Saturdays. Either they are outrageously inefficient, the infrastructure needs far too much maintenance, or there’s too few of them. Probably in customer service. No way Belgian consumers aren’t upset about this rip-off.

A quick overview of the mobile telephone market is probably not going to make anyone happier either. Belgacom has preliminarily been convicted to paying €1.84 million to BASE and Mobistar for engaging in anti-competetive behaviour: they charge too much for roaming. De Morgen further explains that this will result in less money for the share holders next year. The Belgian state constitutes 53.4% of the share holders. Surely this has to do with spectrum licenses being expensive? No. Belgacom received a free five-year license for spectrum last year. Not until March 2010 Telenet was the first provider in Belgium deciding to invest in LTE this. Before 2015.

Somebody did point out to me on Facebook the other day the Belgium at least has produced some good things. But with the standards of Belgian railroads in mind, it’s no wonder the song is titled Moskow Diskow.

  1. december 16, 2010 kl. 17:45

    Hi! I just bumped into your post and thought I’d give a quick reply. I work for Belgacom but do note that what I’m writing here is completely my own opinion and doesn’t in any way reflect the official point of view of Belgacom. I just think some points in your post could use some feedback :)

    About our ADSL market share – the article you cite explicitly talks about growing market share in the business sector. Don’t generalize!

    FTTH might not mainstream in Belgium, indeed, but we do have an ADSL coverage of more than 99,85% of the Belgian population which is rather high compared to other countries who might have some FTTH deployment around major cities but lack majorly in coverage outside the highly populated areas.

    Our pricing is in the mid-range of Europe. Comparisons with other countries often forget to mention the fact these countries heavily subsidize telco operators or give them huge tax advantages (cf. France). Also, notice that our phone prices have dropped massively in the past years and that we continuously innovate with new products and services. We also offer products in packs which brings down the price considerably.

    About the download limit; it’s correct that you can get this option. Getting rid of download limits for everyone would not be a good idea for the general customer base. Only a small percentage of downloaders (very heavy users) need more than their current download limit. These users often cross the limit with enormous data and would put a lot of pressure on the network which could lead to a major drop in internet experience for many.

    About telco employees going on strike – this was about the increased service we’re trying to offer to our customers (service after working hours and weekends). Of course, this puts more pressure on our teams but we’re working on it!

    Hope this helps a little.
    Kind regards,

  2. Amelia Andersdotter
    december 16, 2010 kl. 18:14

    rafdevis: It does help, but you are basically confirming what I said. The French telecoms market I don’t know too much about, but I am very suspicious of it, as are many of my northern European and Dutch friends who say they’ve ”had the misfortune” of encountering it.

    Getting rid of the download limits is a fantastically superb idea! More and more services are streaming based (for instance an online radio service that I use). I do not consider myself a heavy user of bandwidth – I’m hardly running scene servers and I never have. I am just a normal, average consumer who is not used to getting held back in my exploration of new services by.. Well. Download limits usually applied to mobile phones in other countries. And even then, on many European markets even the download limits for mobile phone internet rentals are starting to go away. My internet experience is severely limited by the download limits. I do not want to be restricted to .txt files in my communication with the outside world.

    Expanding your services to after-hours is not kind unless you’re going to employ people. Today I met a friend who has consistently been let down by your customer service for two months. ”We will have someone call you later today.” Just admit it, Belgian telcos hate their customers and the state is raking in the profits Belgacom is making through their shares.

  3. december 16, 2010 kl. 18:41

    For 10 EUR/month you get unlimited download with all our pricing plans! That will solve your problem, won’t it?

    Mobile data limits are ever increasing, indeed. Disappearing is still limited to a very few number of operators, mostly when they’re smaller and still use it as a marketing strategy to win over customers. Seeing they have fewer customers they don’t experience the pressure on their mobile networks. (Btw, I think they’re currently giving 2 months free internet on gsm if you order on our website). If you use a lot more than 1 Gb a month you must be a very heavy user, no?

    We’re indeed employing new people to support the increasing workload. I think today we talked about more than 300 people being engaged.

    What was your friend’s problem? Have him/her drop me a an e-mail and I’ll pass it on to get it fixed.

    We love our customers :) Our service is far from perfect but we’re working really hard on it. I’ve seen things change majorly over the past months.

    Hope it helps!

  1. januari 27, 2011 kl. 23:31

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