Opening speech of Cable Congress 2018 by Manuel Kohnstamm, Cable Europe’s President

Cable Congress 2018 Clayton Hotel, Burlington Road, Dublin. 

Opening remarks – Manuel Kohnstamm – Tuesday 6th March

It’s a great pleasure to be here in Ireland, and to welcome you all to Dublin.  Thank you for joining us at the 2018 edition of the annual European Cable show, Cable Congress.

Yes, that’s correct, it is still called ‘cable’. What’s in that name, cable?

It refers to the physical characteristic of a central antenna system using coax. And yet, today all of us are in the business of digital connectivity and entertainment, high speed broadband, multiscreen video and attractive content. ‘Cable’ is our well-recognised brand, even if a big chunk of what we do is now online, mobile and based on fibre networks. We have often asked ourselves if we should rename and reframe, and we will undoubtedly do so in the future, if only to recognise the natural evolution of our world. And yet, it has been difficult to find something better to frame what we do.

Naming and framing, it is the trick of the policy trade.

A good lobby starts with a smart framing of the issue at hand. Net neutrality is a good example. Brilliantly conceived by Professor Tim Wu in 2003, the term itself already associates with something good, something fair, and it unambiguously implies that when you do not agree, you represent the counterfactual, not neutral, not fair.

Network operators in the US and EU have fought back, with the concept of ‘Open Internet’, again implying that the counterfactual would be not open. Both concepts are actually obsolete in today’s complex digital ecosystem, but the framing has been set.

Another such framing in the recent EU debates is ‘oligopoly’. Sounding very similar to that menacing word ‘monopoly’, oligopoly must be something bad, something terrible. And yet it was not very long ago that the general consensus was that the EU telecom market was hopelessly fragmented into hundreds of subscale operators, lacking the scale to compete on a world market.

Today, we have made some progress in the necessary consolidation and that has been a GOOD thing. Instead of dozens of ineffective small companies in each country, we have now typically one cable operator, one reseller and two or three mobile operators competing with the former incumbents. Much more than that and you lose the critical size and scope to invest and innovate in future network technologies. That does not mean these markets are threatened by an oligopoly, it is actually an improvement over the previous situation. And still, an average EU member state has more network operators than China, and most are dwarfed by the other global players in the digital ecosystem.

These global internet players are subject themselves to quite a bit of naming and framing: internet giants, hyper-giants, GAFA, TUNA and the latest, invented by our friends at HSBC: FANGs, FB, Amazon, Netflix, Google. These Fangs were even creatively illustrated with the creepy fangs of count Dracula. How can you not be afraid of that?

I have never been a fan of negative naming, framing and campaigning in public policy. It usually does not solve anything. It supposes that someone is too successful and needs to be stopped, preferably by more regulation.

But if there is one thing that should be clear by anyone now, the digital ecosystem is the one area in our global economies where Adam Smith and Charles Darwin are alive and well. Technology innovation and disruption create far more value and consumer benefit than any regulation can ever do. Complaining about that is like complaining about genetic evolution.

So let’s embrace disruption, change, and the naming and framing that goes with it in a positive way.

That’s a good bridge to our next speaker, Michael Powell, great optimist, positive thinker and an inspiration for all of us. Michael presides over that other brotherhood of cable companies, the  American NCTA. Michael, I am delighted to welcome you to our Congress.

Now as many of you may know, Michael is the son of General Colin Powell, American elder statesman. A figure often-quoted for his authority and wisdom on leadership.

If you look through Colin’s writings on leadership, you’ll keep coming across the idea of a “force multiplier”.  Applicable in the military, in physics, in science, force multiplier is a tool which positively amplifies any effort you put in to achieve your goals.

And as we get together here in Dublin, what will be that crucial amplifier which makes the goal of an empowered, connected society a reality?  Putting Europe on the world stage of digital connectivity? What will make the difference between something transitional and something truly transformational? It’s the infrastructure. Building that network is a force for good.

Our networks are the key enabler for the digital society.  During the next two days you’re going to hear about Smart cities, 5G, e-health, connected cars, augmented reality, virtual telepresence…all of them relying on high capacity networks to make them happen.

It’s going take investment and it’s going to take scale.  It’s going to take willing private investors, partnerships, competition, and regulatory stability.

I’ll wind up now – we’ve got a packed agenda ahead.  But before I hand you back to Dan, I’d like to share with you Colin Powell’s famous words in full:

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier’, he said,

So with cable’s determination and innovation, and with a healthy dose of perpetual optimism we’ll deliver a connected Europe.

Let’s get to it.