Eliassen, Kjell A. and Johan from. the Privatisation of European Telecommunications

Article excerpt

Eliassen, Kjell A. and Johan From. The Privatisation of European Telecommunications. Aldershot, Great Britain: Ashgate, 2007. Pp. 312. ISBN 978-0-75464260-2 (cloth) $134.95.

Privatizations and the liberalization process of the European telecommunications sector have been much debated and linked issues among policymakers, the industry, public authorities, and academic research alike. With this finely edited collection, Norwegian scholars Kjell A. Eliassen and Johan From do fill a gap by editing a book that discusses the transformation of telecommunications companies and their management practices rather than regulatory issues and case studies of the British Telecom (BT), both subjects by the majority of studies until 2007.

This textbook presents the transition from state telecommunications agencies to listed companies focusing on the transformation of former incumbents as Belgacom, BT, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, and Telenor through processes of corporatization and privatization, analyzing respectively the cases of Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Norway from a political science and organisational theory perspective.

The Privatisation of European Telecommunications focuses on three aspects of the transformations that occurred between the mid-1980s and the first part of the 2000s: the characteristics, examples, and aspects of transformation analyzing the interplay of ownership, regulation, and competition policy on transformation; the way privatized companies dealt with such processes; and the effects on their business strategies, their internationalization, and their dynamics of change. These are also the three parts in which the authors divided the publication, preceded by an introduction and a theoretical chapter that explains the rationale of using agency theory as an analytical tool to discuss relations between states and the telecommunication companies.

Part I, "Liberalisation as context for company transformation," starts with the work of co-editor Johan From and Norwegian scholar Lars Kolberg on the importance of ownership as a crucial factor of company transformation and the role of state owners. After a review of ownership literature, they examine the concepts of performance, the role of the owners as principals, and the move to more private structures of corporate governance, where it becomes clear how the latter hinder "politicians' aspirations to 'exploit' the company for political objectives" (p. 50). In the following chapter, Belgian scholars Caroline Pauwels and Simon Delaere provide an analysis of the changes in the framework of the European Information and Knowledge Society from a political and regulatory perspective, with the European Union being the focus of the main political force behind the transformation that occurred in the ICT sector from the 1980s. It unfolds the complex relationship among EU bodies as the Council of Ministers, the Directorates, the Parliament, and the Courts of Justice, not always consistent in the approach to drive EU policies forward in the audiovisual and telecommunications sector. It also deals with the interference perceived and manifested by EU member states on one side and the continuous push of the World Trade Organization (WTO) towards further liberalization on the other, especially evident in the sector of telecommunications between 1985 and 1999. The 1990s are illustrated as the period in which the creation of a single market and growing technological convergence bring increasing concentration and convergence between telecommunications and media companies. The 2000s, finally, show how sector-specific regulation for telecommunications is being phased out, and its place is taken by competition principles and horizontal, rather than vertical, policies. The authors, in the end, remain doubtful "whether the Member States, in the complex equilibrium of multi-level governance that constitutes telecommunications regulation today, have lost their obstructionist powers" (p. …