A fourth mobile phone operator in Belgium would cost the government €200 to €350 million a year, according to the technology industry federation Agoria. The arrival of a fourth operator was proposed recently by federal tech minister Alexander De Croo, and a report on the matter has recently been completed by the regulator BIPT. According to Agoria, however – which has the three existing operators Telenet, Proximus and BASE among its members – there are three main problems with the idea.
Firstly, Agoria warns, splitting up the bandwidth would mean existing 4G speeds would drop by on average 17%, while future coverage could drop by 20-25%. Rural areas would be particularly hit by a fall in mobile phone coverage if the network were to be divided up.
Secondly, splitting up the available bandwidth would mean lower income for operators, leading to cuts in staffing and quality of service. That could mean the loss of 6,000 to 8,000 jobs directly and indirectly affected in the industry, while the new operator would bring relatively few new jobs to the market. Agoria points to the latest newcomers to the market in Italy, Iliad, which has created a sum total of 80 new jobs.
Finally, the income for the state from VAT and taxation would fall by up to €350 million, Agoria estimates, thanks to a lower state dividend from Proximus and lower employment from other operators. The losses would not be compensated by the possible higher income from the sale of the fourth licence.
The federation also points out that there is no customer demand for a fourth operator. Customers in Belgium – which has the fourth best service in Europe after Scandinavia, France and the UK – are in general satisfied with the operators they have. Agoria is speaking for its members, however; customers themselves, when asked, present a more nuanced view.