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Published: February 22, 2011
 / Spring 2011 / Issue 62


The Thought Leader Interview: Didier Lombard

The problem is of course to persuade consumers to accept this change. One move toward a solution was made in mid-2010 with the Google/Verizon joint venture agreement [to offer premium content and services over a separate managed network]. For Google, this is a fundamental step: It recognizes that in using a majority of the capacity, the company has to participate in the cost. If we follow this direction, the problem may be solved — provided that we can manage the rules precisely. In the end, there will be both managed services and an open Internet, and we will have to take care that everyone finds what they are looking for in this context.

S+B: How does that square with the demand for Net neutrality?
The basic issue is not Net neutrality, but making possible the accommodation of all the signals that are needed in the future world. To do that, we must restructure our business model. Of course we are ready to guarantee equal access to all the Internet players on our networks; we have no intention of filtering anybody. At the same time, we have to find a way to finance everything. And this means that our approach has to be balanced. We cannot make everything free of charge, and stay on the old model with free data. And I think a lot of people are starting to understand that.

S+B: What is your view of the business model of a telecom operator down the line? After a few years, how will the distinction between managed services and the open Internet be handled?
Of course, we are at the very beginning of the examination of this new equilibrium. We know we will need to draw revenues from the broadband connection itself, and we will need to participate in some of the services that are delivered on it, in partnership with the content providers. In the end, we will need a revenue model that balances what we get from the open Internet with what we get from more managed services.

Our major asset right now is our link to the customers. Orange has more than 190 million customers worldwide. We know them, and they trust us because we don’t disclose information about them, and we can block most types of irritants and cybercrime. If we don’t give our customers everything they want — ease of use, protection against irritants, trust, and access to the entire Internet — they will be tempted to move to other platforms.

The Role of Government

S+B: Talk a bit about the trajectory of your own career, from the French government to leading France Télécom, and now being a spokesman for the evolution of the digital world.
I have had a very fortunate career, with a rich variety of experiences over the years. I was very lucky to start out as a young engineer at the France Télécom labs, which was one of the top three laboratories in the world (along with Bell Labs in the U.S. and NTT Labs in Japan) in my field. There, I was involved in some of the major technology changes in the telecom industry — such as satellite communications, fiber optics, and the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM).

When I moved to the French Ministry of Research and Technology in the mid-1980s, I became engaged with many other industries, such as health, transportation, and energy. Today, these same industries are confronting the same issues that we face in telecom; they all have to integrate into the new Internet world. Then in 1998, through another posting as the ambassador in charge of foreign investment, I had a great opportunity to experience the economic and industrial stakes of national commercial policy at an international level.

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