Denis O’Brien tells Google “come to Jesus” in revenue sharing row

Digicel billionaire accuses net giant of giving “two fingers” to telco industry

Denis O’Brien:  argued that the refusal by Facebook and Google to share their revenues with telcos such as Digicel was holding back investment in developing countries. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Denis O’Brien: argued that the refusal by Facebook and Google to share their revenues with telcos such as Digicel was holding back investment in developing countries. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Denis O’Brien, the founder of Digicel, accused Google of peddling “canards” and of giving “two fingers” to telco operators in the ongoing industry debate over ad blocking and demands by Digicel for a slice of Google’s ad revenues.

Mr O’Brien was speaking during a discussion on Monday at the Milken Institute in California, on a panel including officials from the World Bank, the Kenyan government and Cisco.

The panel began discussing a long-running gripe of Mr O’Brien’s – that big web publishers such as Google and Facebook should share some of their massive revenues with telcos that build the physical infrastructure that allows them reach their customers.

Mr O’Brien argued that the refusal by Facebook and Google to share their revenues with telcos such as Digicel was holding back investment in developing countries.

“It’s the elephant in the room. The industry can’t keep investing 25 per cent of revenues on capex while [Google and Facebook] don’t pay a nickel . . . There needs to be a sit-down [with the industry].”

He said Google were the “biggest offenders”, and that both companies had “hundreds” of lobbyists in Washington DC to argue against the points he was making.

Digicel, he confirmed, has rolled out ad-blocking technology in its more than 30 markets to screen out Google and Facebook ads as part of the row.

Mr O’Brien was then confronted from the audience by Ross LaJeunesse, Google’s head of international relations and one of its most senior lobbyists.

Mr LaJeunesse said he had “a problem” with Digicel’s ad-blocking technology because it deprived web companies and start-ups of vital advertising revenue.

“It will change the nature of the web,” he said.

Mr O’Brien retorted that the argument was a “canard” and he then made a two-fingered gesture, which he said was what Google was doing to the telco industry.

“You have forced us [to block Google ads] and there will be more of us,” he said. “It’s time to come to Jesus.”