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Thursday, June 26, 2003

Various Details About the European Reform Process

Frans writes that he has been noticing the funnier side of linguistic discourse in a cosmopolitan society. He also draws out some comparison with my internet connection problems.

Visited a first meeting of a Dutch think-tank in the making risq. An inspiring meeting with 20 educated people most of them much younger than me. So much knowledge and commitment to be combined! There was some language-question. Two people did not speak Dutch very well, so the meeting was in English completely. When I got back to Utrecht an Italian man came to me at the bus station and asked me in very poor Dutch if he waited at the right platform. I answered in English but he did not got me very well. Some young girls from Moroccan background helped him out: in Dutch !

Reading about your experience with providers it looks like there is some pattern in it. I started with a respected but little bit old-fashioned provider. Then I went over to aggressive seller Wanadoo (cable) and met with bad service and arrogance and turned back to the first one quickly. Now that I want to switch to ADSL-connection I arrive at xs4all: cheap (because of?) little advertisement and with an approach that has some similarity with open-source-software.
(btw: I plan to move to pmachine as blogtool; looks a bit simpler than movable type but with many nice features all the same).

On the connectivity side, I am still stuck in a locutorio, but this time it's a bit more yuppie, just next to the cafe Zurich at the top of Las Ramblas. It's full of various categories of globetrotters, and the music is OK. It drives me onward. It's pricier than my local one, and not as cosy. This morning I was blogging from the university, but after 9.00 the connection really is sl............ow. It's cheaper in time/money to go outside and pay. This should give some idea of how the info-revolution is panning out down here. I'm sorry to say it, but outside the adolescents I have the distinct feeling that the Spanish really don't like internet. Plus everyone seems to have an inordinate amount of difficulty with their computers which always seem to be crashing, which of course is the computer, and not the user's, fault, now isn't it? Plus the quantity of free info available really seems to be zilsch. Even the national newspapers like El Pais are taking to charging for everything beyond the front page. One of my wittier students did remark that I probably had as many daily visits across my pages as El Pais does these days.

The 'we can charge, but reserve the right not to provide a service' bit certainly does seem to typify the way the pressure in the high-tech sector doesn't seem to be leading to any kind of reasonable reform in any meaningful sense of the word. What we have is a retrenchment of the existing monopolies (Telefonica just took back its former star 'Terra Networks' to try to survive nestling in its mothers arms and for a price way below the initial launch price. All the bills run up in the 'buy now' craze are being paid off by increasing the fix line charges over which Telefonica has a monopoly). And now there seems to be a crisis in the ADSL sector, Jazztel seem to be having their own problems, and my provider France Telecom subsidiary Wanadoo have had all their Barcelona ADSL clients cut off for two weeks now. No explanation and no end in sight. We were transferred by Retevision to Wanadoo, presumably because it's hard to make money from this here, then shortly after the transfer we were cut off. I smell Telefonica!!!

The point really is: how is it possible to be optimistic about a 'reformed' Europe if even telecom liberalisation is folding back on itself, with customer treatment being at the lowest of lows since the old Franco years? It isn't only the Bulgarians who feel that there is something missing in the idea of the 'rule of law' in this country.

Mind you the French government seem to be being forced to back away from Bull. I wonder what Frans thinks about this?

Shares in Bull tumbled 20 per cent after it said on Thursday that the French government would no longer be stakeholder or provide guarantees once the computer services group completes its financial restructuring. Speaking at Bull's annual general meeting, Pierre Bonelli, chief executive of Bull, warned shareholders and bondholders in the troubled computer group they would have to make "heavy sacrifices" as part of its plan to repay a E450m loan from the French government.

Brussels is set to launch legal action over the loan unless Bull repays the money in the next few weeks. The company has promised to complete refinancing by the end of September, after missing a June 17 deadline, but the European Commission’s patience is wearing thin. Mr Bonnelli said: "Someone asked me about the recent rise in the shares and bond prices - but that is pure speculation and nothing to do with the true situation of this company. I wanted to calm the situation down and bring it back to reality." Shares in Bull, which more than doubled in the last month, fell more than 20 per cent to 0.91 on Thursday afternoon, valuing its equity at about E150m.

Once a flagship of the French computer industry, the group has seen its workforce shrink from 46,000 in 1988 to about 8,000 at the end of 2002. The company is believed to have received some E7bn in bail-outs from Paris since the 1960s. Nevertheless, Bull reported a return to operating profitability in the first half and says its restructuring plan is progressing well. "Once we pay back this loan we need no more help from the state," said Mr Bonnelli. "We will be profitable and generating positive cash flow."
Source: Financial Times

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