This man has been fighting for cheap cable internet for decades. Will he win this time?

Half cheaper, twice as fast. And you can choose which services and TV channels you want to include. A nice message, thinks Taco Jelgersma, in times when the prices for everything are skyrocketing. However, VodafoneZiggo’s TV cable must then open up to competition. The monopoly watchdog ACM will soon make a statement about this.

Herman Stil

It is the invisible money guzzler. The Dutch pay gold to be able to use the internet, Netflix and telephone at home. It seems as if there are more than enough internet providers who happily tumble over each other with great offers, but in fact there are only two giants that dominate our fixed internet traffic: KPN for the telephone lines, VodafoneZiggo for the TV cable.

KPN’s telephone cables have traditionally been open to competitors, one of the achievements of the privatization of state-owned company PTT. However, the TV cable is still, like an old Soviet state, closed to any competitor.

It is true that many cable networks were set up by municipalities fifty years ago, when commerce took care of these lucrative cables, those governments were more than happy to sell their property for good money. For example, the Amsterdam KTA, set up by the municipality and the housing associations, passed from hand to hand as A2000 and later UPC.

Sometimes there were agreements about openness – for example, the local TV station Salto had to be given a place in Amsterdam – and there are still Asterix villages such as the municipality of Harderwijk where competition on cable is rampant, but in most cases market agreements went silently overboard in successive cable takeovers. .

Prices for internet are significantly higher here

And we are still paying the price for that. Literally, thinks internet entrepreneur Taco Jelgersma. Because KPN can determine the access price for the competition itself to a certain extent and Ziggo can keep the cable all to itself, the prices for internet and TV here are significantly higher than in most other European countries. “In Italy you pay 25 to 30 euros for a gigabit internet with the largest provider. Here 60 euros.”

This is because KPN and VodafoneZiggo form a duopoly in the internet area, which controls 85 percent of the market. “As a result, we pay more for internet here every year and get less for it every year.”

Look at the market for mobile web access, says Jelgersma, where competition has resulted in choice and price drops. “That is also possible with fixed internet, but not as long as Ziggo is allowed to shield its cable.”

The Jelgersma’s could easily be dismissed as donquichots, were it not for the fact that father Peter Jelgersma is pretty much the godfather of cable TV. In the 1970s he was involved in the arrival of many local cable networks, including those in Amsterdam. In the eighties he set up Filmnet, the first pay-TV channel in the Netherlands, and with Joop van den Ende he joined the commercial channels TV10 (flopped) and Radio10 (successful). He harassed the cable industry with digital terrestrial TV via Digitenne, which he then managed to sell to KPN for good money.

The accumulated capital is now invested by his son Taco in all kinds of technological investments and provides sufficient profit to continue the battle for the cable network. But, he admits, that also has to do with the stubbornness of the Jelgersma’s. After all: why resign yourself to something so illogical?

Battle against telecom giants

Fifteen years ago, father and son founded Youca, from Your Cable – Jelgersma admits that a better name has yet to be invented. For the time being, Youca is primarily a cost item, a vehicle for carrying out an endless stream of procedures. It has been a lost battle so far, against the telecom giants and against the regulators in The Hague and in Brussels. And if the Dutch monopoly cracker ACM then draws a line through that duopoly and obliges both KPN and Ziggo to open their networks, the administrative court will draw a line through it, as happened in 2020.

Politicians, in Amsterdam as well as in The Hague and Brussels, are anxiously aloof. “What do you want, if you are constantly advised that competition is very bad for digital innovation. All introduced by the telecom lobby.”

He maintains that more competition would mean that the cable companies have less money to install fiber optic cables into the houses, for example, so that the internet speeds cannot increase any further. A nonsensical argument, according to Jelgersma. “Why are so many investors, including pension fund ABP, now diving into the installation of fiber optic cable?”

In his opinion, that glass is not necessary at all. “Can you imagine how long it will take for the whole of Amsterdam to be glazed? All those canals, all those suburbs? While there is a fantastic ready-to-use network that can handle speeds of up to 10 gigabits: the cable.”

Price halving

Jelgersma has now submitted a claim to ACM for cable access in Amsterdam. He deliberately limited himself, so that the supervisor can handle a somewhat manageable file. “The whole of the Netherlands at once would have been too much.” But, he reveals, other cities will not be left behind with gains.

“Organisationally, everything is ready. The equipment, the organization, the marketing. We even have agreements in principle with Ziggo. We can start within six months of the verdict.” He assumes that a price cut in half will attract forty to fifty thousand of the more than 450,000 Amsterdam households. “And you’ll see Internet access prices going down everywhere.”

Because it concerns an ACM ruling, there is no case law. Other hijackers on the coast will have to follow their own procedure. Jelgersma: “I expect that things will go quickly after a positive ruling. ACM will not allow another monopolist to be created with Youca. And who knows, Ziggo may say: let’s open things up completely then.”

As an entrepreneur, he does not understand why the cable giant is firmly against. “KPN gets 15 percent of its network traffic from competitors’ services. That makes KPN a lot of money. That would be no different for VodafoneZiggo.” He suspects that the Dutch Ziggo management is willing, but that the American shareholder, Liberty Global, is against competition. “The American way: sue them to hell.”

trench warfare

Not that he has KPN on his side. On the contrary. “KPN benefits from the status quo. They now have a monopoly on competition. When the Ziggo cable opens, their customers walk away. I am convinced that behind the scenes KPN is strongly opposed to opening up.”

And so it is a fine trench warfare, which is waged from the third floor of a sub-office on the Vijzelgracht. Jelgersma does not think about giving up. “My father started this; he is now 80 years old and still just as combative. When I’m 80 it’s either been open for years or I’m still fighting for it.” He just doesn’t see his young daughters following in those footsteps.

ACM’s judgment is expected before the end of the year. The regulator has just retrieved the final responses to Youca’s request. Even after the ACM judgment, the battle is far from over. “If I lose, I will go back to court. And if I win, Ziggo will.”

Moreover, the cable operator, he expects, will do everything it can to train things as long as possible in the event of a positive judgment. “The question is at which point in the cable network we will have access. If it is up to Ziggo, this is at street cabinet level, which means that we have to lay cables ourselves to about 15,000 cabinets. Priceless of course. In our opinion, it is quite possible to plug in at the top of that cable network. That is how it is at KPN too.”

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