In a week when French telecommunications operator Altice announced it is planning Europe’s first online bank, enthusiasm from the Portuguese government has been thin on the ground.
Taking questions after the State of the Nation debate in parliament on Thursday, prime minister António Costa admitted that “as a consumer” he has “come to his own conclusions in face of the existing panorama on the national market”.
It was a careful way of saying he is no longer a PT/ Altice customer.
But that doesn’t stop his “fears for the future”, he said – not only for the job safety of PT workers, but for the service in general.
The fires in central Portugal last month, for example, highlighted “serious” telecommunications failings.
Some operators were able to keep their services going throughout logistical difficulties, “and there was another that was incapable of making any communications for a long time, and that is very serious”, he said.
Again, the inference was clear: Altice is not living up to expectations, despite being a global multinational poised now to enter the hurly-burly of online banking.
Responding to the criticism today, Altice CEO Michel Combes said: “I would not like to comment any, let’s say, words of your prime minister, but what I might say is that first, how proud we are with the level of investment that we are doing today in the country. I can tell you that some other countries would be happy to have this type of investment from any private company.
“On the fires, I would just say that of course it has been a tragedy for the country… but we have done all that was physical in order to make it work.
“In this type of circumstance, as you can imagine, it is not always that easy. Traffic explodes, so there is, let’s say, a few things to be managed, and I am proud of what has been done by the company, and by our employees, and by the technicians”.
Aside from PT, Altice is a shareholder in the State’s SIRESP communications network which is also under heavy scrutiny as a result of the fires.
But moving swiftly on, Altice tried to make Friday all about its news of a ‘new online bank’, due to be launched in 2019 in all the European countries where Altice manages telecommunications.
The company owned by French billionaire Paul Drahi is fresh from the success of having started trading last month on the New York Stock exchange where its debut was said to be “impressive”.