Belgium regulator says Internet access still too costly

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BIPT chairman says country is on track to reach EU’s 2020 broadband targets.

Belgium’s telecommunications market needs a price-focused player and more consumer pressure to bring down the high cost of TV and Internet access, says Luc Hindryckx, chairman of the country’s telecom regulator BIPT.
“We have the current operators, who provide a great service, the equivalent of a BMW or Mercedes, but there’s no equivalent to a [cheaper]Renault Clio,” Hindryckx said in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires.
The Belgian broadband market is dominated by Belgacom SA, the former monopoly in which the government still holds a majority stake, and the cable operators — principally Telenet NV, in which international cable operator Liberty Global owns a controlling 50.2% stake, and publicly-owned Tecteo SA.
Belgian consumers have to pay more for their broadband packages in comparison with other European countries, according to European consumer lobby BEUC, with a typical triple-play package around EUR50-70 a month.
BIPT has taken steps to rectify this by making it easier for new entrants to access the Belgian market, such as by regulating cable companies to open up access, as they have significant market power in the regions.
Despite a population of just 11 million, there is high fragmentation of the media market due to the country’s three official languages. Most consumers opt for a triple-play deal for TV, internet and phone, with the vast majority getting their connection from former incumbent Belgacom SA or a cable company.
Hindryckx says the telecom companies focus on product leadership and so consumers do get value for the prices they pay. He thinks consumers will eventually be instrumental in bringing prices down as they push for a wider range of offers at different speeds and ranges of TV channels.
Infrastructure competition is forcing both Belgacom and the cable companies to invest in their networks, meaning the country is well on track to hit EU targets of Internet access at 100MB a second for everyone by 2020.
Belgium will start offering consumers fourth-generation broadband coverage as soon as July this year.