Android, Telecom Act of 1996 Were Misplaced, as it Turns Out

The problem faced by regulators and business leaders often is that strategies deemed vital at one moment in time can seem almost irrelevant a decade later.

Consider the launch of the Android mobile operating system by Google, seen in 2005 as an insurance policy against complete dominance in the mobile realm by Microsoft, with the danger that could pose for Google apps on mobile devices.

That was before the emergence of the Apple iPhone. A decade later, the strategic rationale arguably no longer has such potency. For starters, Microsoft Mobile is not a huge factor. Nor has Android proved to be the boon many might have expected. Android doesn’t directly generate revenue for Google, and “forked” versions of Android even are proving to be the foundation for new rival ecosystems (Amazon now, and possibly Microsoft and others in the future).

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 likewise was the first major revision of the Communications Act of 1934. Aiming to introduce competition in the telecommunications market, the Act focused on enabling voice competition.

More than a decade later, it is clear what really happened. Voice was about to reach its peak of adoption in 2000, to begin a steady decline. The Internet, meanwhile, emerged as the vital source of telecommunications-delivered applications and value.

The Act made sense at the time. But policymakers could not have foreseen the maturation of voice and its replacement by Internet apps as the source of innovation and growth.  

It is very hard to make the right strategic decisions today, and have them remain relevant after a decade. Both the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and launch of Android were aimed at problems that did not materialize, or arose from unexpected directions.
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