Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: info, Volume 17, Issue 1
Colin Blackman is a Director at Camford Associates Ltd, Cambridge, UK and Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Digital Forum, Brussels, Belgium.
Is it time to rethink telecoms regulation?
Ten years ago, in an editorial, I reflected on recent developments in the telecommunications sector and questioned whether there was a need for a fresh look at the basis for regulation (Blackman, 2005). I speculated that liberalisation had brought increased competition, better services and lower prices, and that the rise in mobile communications and the emergence of Voice-over-IP might suggest that a different approach might be needed in future. After all, telecoms-specific regulation was supposed to be a temporary measure, eventually giving way to general competition law and consumer protection.
Ten years later, the electronic communications landscape has been transformed into a digital IP world, dominated by Internet platforms and “over-the-top” services. The core business of mobile network operators (MNOs), once the new entrants but now largely reabsorbed within the incumbent fixed-line operators, is shifting from voice and SMS to providing Internet access. But in the new digital ecosystem, the action is shifting further away from core transmission to the provision of services.
At the same time, investment in next-generation infrastructure is critical to ensure that the benefits of the digital economy can be realised. Especially in Europe, investment is lagging, with MNOs seemingly reluctant to invest. They argue that they are disadvantaged because they are subject to regulatory burdens that the Internet players they increasingly compete with are not. Europe, in particular, is standing at a crossroad. Although some member states are performing well (e.g. The the Netherlands), generally speaking, broadband implementation across the European Union does not compare well with the USA.
Meanwhile, the Connected Continent package, passed by the European Parliament in May 2014, remains a work in progress. With a new European Commission and Parliament now in place, perhaps the time is now right for a radical rethink. For instance, in his article in this issue, Simon Hampton argues that we should recognise that the telecommunication liberalisation process has been a success but is now a source of distortion and uncertainty, and it is time to signal the repeal of telecoms rules (Hampton, 2015). At the other extreme, some are calling for even heavier regulation of the sector. Recently, Professor Gérard Pogorel has argued for measures to achieve consolidation in pursuit of a Digital Single Market, an approach that Peter Curwen discusses, but remains unconvinced by, in this issue’s Rearview (Curwen, 2015).
Is repeal of the telecoms rules realistic? While it might be appropriate in some of Europe’s more developed member states, how would those less advanced states where competition is limited fare? And what about the long-standing concern that competition law is just too slow to be effective?
While the answer to these and other questions remains unclear, what is certain is that the digital ecosystem is continuing to evolve and that the focus should be on the future rather than the past. Moreover, achieving a European Digital Single Market looks increasingly difficult, while the value of doing so seems questionable.
Blackman, C. (2005), “How temporary is telecoms sector-specific regulation?”, info, Vol. 7 No. 1.
Curwen, P. (2015), “Rearview: a single European telecommunications market is a mirage”, info, Vol. 17 No. 1.
Hampton, S. (2015), “The case for repealing the EU’s telecommunications legislation”, info, Vol. 17 No. 1.
Colin Blackman can be contacted at: mailto:email@example.com