Outgoing Tele2 CEO: Estonia's internet worst, costliest in the region

A person connected to the internet via their laptop, while consuming Baltic herring and (presumably) sour cream.
A person connected to the internet via their laptop, while consuming Baltic herring and (presumably) sour cream. Source: Renee Altrov/Brand Estonia

Internet services in Estonia are the worst in the region at the same time as being the most expensive, Telia has the market stitched up, and the regulatory body tasked with monitoring the sector is unable to perform its functions adequately, the outgoing CEO of Tele2 Eesti says.

Chris Robbins, a Canadian national who recently announced he would be leaving Tele2 in Estonia, after five years at the helm, told portal Delfi's business page (link in Estonian) that the root of the issues derive from the hold Telia has over the communication services infrastructure, which it essentially owns, over Tele2 and the other player in Estonia's telco oligopoly, Elisa.

Tele2 logo. Source: ERR

Robbins told Delfi in an interview that: "I'm leaving soon, so I no longer have any interests here, and I can say this straight up and honestly: The price of internet services in Estonia is insanely high. It is the worst service in the region, yet with the highest prices." 

"I find this unbelievable. Prices for home and business internet are crazy, just ridiculous. This in turn hurts the economy. In a situation where companies are paying eight to ten times more than they do in Lithuania, then this is crazy," he went on.

Van in Telia livery. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The main watchdog tasked with overseeing the market, the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA), is also relatively toothless to do so, he said, even as he had praise for the organization itself.

"I like our watchdog here. They're nice, smart and hard-working. But they're clearly understaffed. They can't carry out the task. They're not a watchdog. They're the weakest player in the region, and they know it. They need more people," he went on.

"Though it pains me to say it, sometimes when we talk to them, the first thing they ask is have we agreed on anything with our competitors," Robbins added. 

"If we are allowed to make agreements, then we wouldn't need [the TTJA]. The supervisory body is there to ensure that what we do is also in the interests of society. They have to steer the market in the right direction, but they don't do that."

"The new government must do something. /.../ The supervisory body is there to see that if there is an oligopoly that dominates a field, they act. Telia owns the infrastructure, but its role is not in the interest of society," Robbins went on.

Robbins was expressly talking about internet services in general as offered in Estonia.

Robbins also told Delfi that he will be moving on to work for a global organization, outside of Estonia.

Chris Robbins (picture dated 2018). Source: ERR

"I've been at Eesti Tele2 for nearly five, happy years, the longest time in my career so far that I've been in the same role and in the same country, so it's time for a new personal challenge," Robbins told Delfi, in a separate article.

Robbins's resume includes a stint as CEO of telco Bite Lithuania, and a board member for that company both in Lithuania and Latvia.

As for Tele2 Eesti, he cited turning around a shrinking customer base, falling revenues, rising costs and poor customer satisfaction performances as the main achievements he and his team have made since 2018.

The company is in the process of looking for a replacement, meaning Robbins will stay in place at Tele2 until the second quarter of this year.

He was also careful to have some other good valedictory words for Estonia.

 "I am constantly praising Estonian culture, society and people to my friends and my network, worldwide. I will definitely miss a lot about the country, including the wonderful and strong team of customer service champions we have at Tele2," he said.

The availability and speed of internet in Estonia has long been one of the pillars of Estonia's oft-praised e-state trailblazing, while national programs have been in place to attract foreign talent (often referred to in the media as "talents") to work in senior positions in Estonian firms, so the Delfi revelations likely grate against that somewhat.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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