In the modern society security is no longer linked to ownership. It is through technical solutions, regulations and legislation that national security interests are safeguarded, rather than through ownership, writes Telia’s chairman Marie Ehrling and CEO Johan Dennelind in connection with the debate regarding the government’s ownership in the company.
Many ask themselves how Telia can buy TV4. Telia has been a publicly listed company for almost 20 years. Almost two-thirds of the company, which is still regarded as a government agency by some, is owned by hundreds of thousands of owners from all over the world and is Sweden’s most widely distributed public share.
Much has happened since 1993 when Telia was incorporated and not least in the last six years, during which the company has gone through profound change.
Since 2016, assets worth approximately SEK 50 billion have been sold and operations valued at circa SEK 40 billion have been acquired. The starting point is the strategy which was established in 2014 and which, with minor modifications, has guided the company ever since. Telia wants to be the hub to digital experiences in homes and offices, content is an important part of it. The focus is on the Nordic and Baltic countries, not Spain, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Nepal, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan, in practice the entire business region Eurasia has now been phased out.
Telia has strengthened its position as the leading telecommunications company in the Nordic and Baltic countries with acquisitions of, among others, Tele2 and GET/TDC in Norway and Bonnier Broadcasting with TV4 in Sweden and MTV in Finland. Everything is based on the path chosen in 2014. Telia’s ambition is to become something more in the customers’ lives than the supplier of the market’s best connection it already is.
As a consequence of digitalization more and more businesses are developed in ecosystems in which several actors contribute with their skills and create services and new ways of doing things. It brings with it new economic opportunities and increased competitiveness for the Nordic and Baltic countries, but it also simplifies our everyday lives and makes a necessary contribution to our efforts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
This development, and a challenging geopolitical security environment, places great demands on secure communications. The ecosystems that are a necessary part of the internet, which brings us all closer to one another, also poses challenges. Just a little more than a quarter of a century ago, Telia was a Swedish authority and an important part of the Swedish infrastructure and security. The latter still holds true, but today it is also true in the other Nordic and Baltic countries in cooperation with many other players. Every year, we invest approximately SEK 15 billion to make our networks and IT systems even better and safer throughout the region.
Not long ago there was one operator with one network in each individual country. Today, it is more complex, in all countries where we operate there are several players who are linked together in a global network. In a modern society, security is about defending the internet, in our everyday life when we run the risk of privacy violations to our digital lives, as well in maintaining a readiness for times of crisis and war. Societal security is a team sport with many players with different owners in different countries. It is important to bear that in mind when talking about Telia today.
We were part of Swedish national security 30 years ago, when the government had 100 percent influence and was able to control its government agency through directives, and we are part of it today as a listed company, not only in Sweden, but also in other countries which are not owners of Telia. The Swedish and Finnish state ownership in Telia has gradually changed, through the years the Finnish state has sold its entire stake for example. For us, it is important to emphasize that regardless of who owns Telia, we will continue to work with security, it is not linked to ownership and it is important that all shareholders are aware of it. For us and our shareholders, it is important that discussions concerning Telia are based on facts.
We strive to have secure networks and drive digitalization in close cooperation with both private actors and various societal functions and authorities. We take our mission regarding national security very seriously and have very high ambitions when it comes to delivering what is expected of us. The discussion on security issues should, in all the countries in which we operate, primarily be based on technical solutions, design of appropriate regulation and legislation, rather than on ownership.
It is also in this context that the discussion about TV4 should be seen. As a listed company, Telia operates within the framework of laws and regulations that apply to all players with the aim of creating the best possible value for their customers and thus for all shareholders over time. The Board’s answer to what that is can be found in our strategy and is made concrete through the business decisions that have been made. No other considerations should not and must not to be taken, according to the rules of governance which apply.
When Telia becomes the owner of Bonnier Broadcasting, the diversity in the media market increases. The opportunity is created to build a strong regional media player in a world dominated by big giants like Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. Telia will safeguard the editorial independence, regardless of whether the state owns just over a third of the company or not. The freedom of the press act and the fundamental law on freedom of expression constitute an important protection for freedom of speech and for independent and investigative reporting.
The acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting is currently subject to regulatory approvals in Brussels regarding its effect on competition, and it is precisely competition which is considered, nothing else. What the EU Commission wants to know is how the transaction affects customers’ access to services, and the price of these. The issue of media concentration is not subject to assessment, which is natural as Telia does not currently own any media companies.
We follow the debate and would like to emphasize that we welcome everyone as shareholders and have no views on state ownership of Telia, it is a matter for the government and the parliament. We also welcome a dialogue and an analysis of Telia’s role in maintaining national security and our future role in the media market, but these issues should not be mixed with the issue of state ownership in the company. Digitalization has changed everything for our industry and for Telia, now is the time that it also changes the debate about the company.