Editorial: Is it harder to argue with numbers?
Nov 08, 2013 by PolicyTracker



The European Parliament’s Ex-Ante Impact Assessment Unit has questioned the European Commission’s much-repeated claim that its proposals for the telecoms industry will increase economic output by €110 billion each year.

It says the figure is based on a calculation by the consultancy Ecorys, which estimates that the realisation of the single market for telecoms will increase economic output by something between 0.52 per cent and 0.89 per cent.

However, the Unit says the Commission’s recent draft Regulation contains a much more limited set of measures than those imagined by Ecorys and in any case the Commission cites different objectives in different parts of its proposals. As a result of this, the Unit recommends an “analysis of the claimed economic gains”.

The argument is nuanced and of course numbers speak louder than nuance but it is arguably worth bearing in mind that all these projections are to some extent speculative and debatable.

The temptation to condense what is essentially a public policy discussion into two competing figures is strong. Lobbyists like to be able to tell policymakers that a competitor’s proposal will only add €10 billion to a national economy while their own will add €110 billion.

The art of quantifying through complex mathematical models based on extrapolation is popular throughout the spectrum industry.

At a recent conference in London, the PPDR community received two presentations that attempted to quantify the value of spectrum used by emergency services. Alexander Grous from the London School of Economics joked that London’s housing boom could be attributed to falling crime and that the value of spectrum could take this into account. At least, I think he was joking, but then of course that’s my own extrapolation.

And yesterday morning, ETNO pointed to recent figures from Boston Consulting Group that said reforming Europe’s telecoms regulatory framework could benefit Europe’s economy to the tune of “€750 billion in GDP growth and 5.5 million additional jobs by 2020”.

Even more figures are likely to be produced in the run up to WRC-15. But should we rely on numbers alone to close an argument? My own view is that it would be a bad idea, potentially causing damage of up to €63.27 billion to Europe’s economy…•