How has the Covid-19 pandemic been for you personally? What have you found most challenging?
For me personally, it has been a period full of new experiences, both positive and negative. I have missed meeting people, exchanging stories, celebrating achievements and creating new ideas together. For example, I have had a few brainstorm sessions with my ACM colleagues online, but in this sense I am old school: for me nothing matches standing around a whiteboard with a group, finishing each other’s sentences. But on the other hand, it has stimulated virtual discussions with colleagues from around the world, thus enabling us to cooperate over long distances without the need to travel. So I look forward to the day when we can freely choose to use these achievements of digital connectivity and mix them with the advantages of having full, real life interaction.
Do you think the pandemic will be a catalyst to close the digital divide, given what we’ve discovered about the impacts?
The pandemic has made clear that people who are less well connected digitally stand to suffer, for example in terms of interaction, work and learning. So it has made the digital divide more tangible and urgent, it has put a spotlight on the cracks in our society. And it has made clear that it is not only a matter of the availability of connectivity, but also of access. Can people afford the connection they need, do they have the proper tools, devices but also skills to ensure that they can connect in a safe and meaningful way? In Europe, we have made a good start, but there is still a long way to go.
The biggest criticisms of the Digital Markets Act seem to be that it is too prescriptive in how platforms run their businesses, that definitions around scope especially are too vague, and that ultimately the reduction in competitive pressure will hamper innovation. How do you respond to this?
The DMA is based on well-proven principles from European and global competition and regulation practices, targeted at markets where a winner-takes-most dynamic has become apparent. The DMA sets a list of principle-based obligations and prohibitions that ensure a fair and contestable environment to compete in. Like with the GDPR, I expect Europe to set new standards with the DMA for the way in which we ensure that end users in Europe can fully reap the benefits from an open and safe digital economy.
It’s been suggested, including by some competition regulators, that it’s no coincidence that almost all of the companies impacted by the DMA are from the US or Asia, where regulation is lighter. What’s your view on this? Has Europe fallen behind in digital innovation, and if so why?
There are so many differences between Europe, the US and Asia, like size and scale of domestic markets and not the least in the way that governments interact with markets. In Europe in general and in particular in BEREC we share the view that a predictable regulatory environment, based on known principles, stimulates competition and innovation. With all the rapid developments in the digital economy, we are working hard to make sure that our instruments and regulatory policies are still fit for purpose. In my experience, talking to colleagues from around the world, I find that we all face similar challenges with the same ambition: making digital markets work better for people and businesses.
As a counter-point, do you see the EU’s green agenda as a route to competitive advantage, and if so in what ways?
It is my personal belief that it is vital that we take action to stop global warming and that this requires a concerted effort, multilateral, across countries, involving governments, industries and consumers alike. Put differently, it is not a matter of competitive advantage, it is imperative that we green our economy. With this in mind, we have started in BEREC to ask ourselves what role we can play, as regulators, to help green the telecoms sector in Europe. This has two dimensions, the first is limiting our own CO2-footprint, which we monitor closely. Secondly, we have started the dialogue with the telecoms sector and other stakeholders such as NGOs to learn what we can do, or should stop doing, to help make connectivity more sustainable. By the end of this year, I hope we will have formulated further steps and these will take a prominent place in BEREC’s Work Program 2022.
While many businesses urge greater harmonisation, do you think the current structures are sufficient to deliver it? Can you see more of a role for a pan-EU regulator in the future, or is the federal / network model the best one?
The telecoms landscape in Europe is diverse, there are differences in physical and technological infrastructures as well as market characteristics. At the same time, we operate in a single European market. The model that we operate in now is best characterised as a dynamic hybrid model. With this I mean to say that we all work within the same common framework, but that we are aware of these differences and actively work towards greater harmonisation. This is apparent in the way we monitor developments using the same definitions, the guidelines that we have developed to implement the European Telecoms Code in the BEREC Member States in a consistent manner or how we have come to a harmonised parameter like the WACC. It is also evident from the way in which we continuously engage in internal and external dialogue to identify best practices in regulation. Thus, we can reap the fruits of the diversity that is one of Europe’s strengths, but also help realise a well-functioning single European market.
What goals do you have while in your role as Chair of BEREC?
My goals for the chairmanship BEREC 2022 are to act, learn and innovate. Let me explain. The previous years have been filled with drawing Guidelines following the European Electronic Communications Code. Now, in most countries, the legislative processes for implementation are still underway. But we are all set to put it to practice, to act and thanks to all the work done, we will hit the ground running. The same will apply for the adjustments to the roaming regulation: we stand ready to take action next year. On the other hand, we see these developments we just discussed, digital economy, digital divide, the green agenda, confront us with new challenges. I believe that BEREC can be part of the solution. That we have to learn from the past and innovate on that basis. Look for example at the input we have given to the debate on the DMA, sharing our experience with ex ante regulation, the co-operation with other European Bodies on cybersecurity or the dialogue on sustainability with stakeholders. These form the basis for our future work as independent telecom regulators in Europe.
In this latest interview, we speak to Annemarie Sipkes, Director of the Telecommunications, Transport and Postal Services Department at the Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM)
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