Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Old Lines are Blurring, Regulation Has to Follow

One persistent issue for communications and media regulators, policymakers and antitrust officials is that technology and business models have rearranged our notions of “who” service providers are, “what” a service is, “where, when and how” such services are provided and then how to change our notions of “who” operates in a particular industry; how to draw the boundaries and “what” needs regulating.

Those problems are going to evolve further as boundaries between communications, content, shopping and transaction processing continue to morph.

It remains true that regulations treat voice over IP differently, at times, than “carrier voice.” Cable TV companies are regulated differently than telcos or third-party internet service providers who also sell entertainment video or voice services. Google is an ISP, a mobile services and voice provider. Facebook provides messaging, Apple supplies video calling, while Amazon sells entertainment video.

And though spectrum usable for communications historically has been quite scarce, that might not be true in the future. Nor will the potential users of such spectrum--to create services and apps--be so limited as in the past.

As  Amazon and Google voice-activated home appliances could be used as speakerphones, Apple could emerge as a bigger player in content services and Comcast and Charter enter the mobile business, the boundaries between industries will blur.

As we soon will see in the U.S. market, that is likely to pose problems for regulators asked to approve mergers where traditional application of industry concentration metrics is complicated.

The longer-term implications are that it might not be possible--or even necessary--to regulate in the older ways (by industry segment, by technology, by supplier, by business model). Interference protection, in the use of spectrum areas, might become more vital than licensing restrictions.

It might not be easy  to measure industry concentration when apps and services are provided across traditional industry lines, using many technologies and business models, in different volumes.

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