Telefónica chief calls on EU to end privileges for internet giants

César Alierta describes ex-EU information commissioner as “the biggest disaster Europe ever had’

Ramón Muñoz
Santander -
César Alierta (left) greets Minister José Manuel Soria in front of Vittorio Colao.
César Alierta (left) greets Minister José Manuel Soria in front of Vittorio Colao.E. Cobo (EFE)

They are bitter rivals in dozens of countries, yet they are also united by a common goal: to end what they see as regulatory and tax privileges for internet companies.

On Monday, Telefónica chairman César Alierta and Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao coincided at the UIMP summer university courses in Santander, where they both asked the European Union to treat Google, Apple and Facebook the same way they treat the telecoms.

Alierta went further and asked the new European Commission to put an end to the “monopolies” of closed operating systems, an indirect reference to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

It would take the European commissioner one single afternoon to put an end to closed operating systems” Telefónica chairman César Alierta

“It would take the European commissioner one single afternoon — two at the most, if there was a lot of work to do that day — to put an end to closed operating systems,” said the head of Telefónica, which was once a state monopoly in Spain until the liberalization of the telecoms market in 1997.

Alierta noted that the United States overhauled its legislation in 2003, but that Europe is still coping with an obsolete, asymmetrical set of rules that only focuses on telecoms while allowing internet companies to do as they wish, even though “they respect neither privacy nor security, and know everything about our lives.”

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The head of Telefónica was especially hard on former EU information society commissioner Viviane Reding, who introduced lower roaming charges for telephone operators. “Reding is the biggest disaster Europe has ever had. She didn’t even know what a network is,” he said, adding that he was hopeful that her successor, Neelie Kroes, will do a better job.

Reding, who is now the vice-president of the European Commission, said through a spokesman that she is “very proud of her work” while she was information society commissioner.

Meanwhile, the head of Vodafone also asked for a single set of rules that will not penalize investment and enable operators to be profitable.

“How can you have an entrepreneurial spirit in Europe if you have to deal with 27 sets of regulations?” asked Vittorio Colao. “In the US you have 300 million consumers and just one set of rules. It’s not fair that Facebook or Whatsapp, who have a billion users, don’t have to follow the same rules we do.”

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