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Euro Insight

15.01.2020
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The spring TMF (Telecommunications and Media Forum) took place in Brussels at the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT), with insights into the new European Commission (EC) and Parliament. Opening the keynote panel, Peter Linton of the European Internet Forum (EIF), argued that the regulatory frameworks for data privacy and security must be the political priorities for a knowledge society, especially since data is the main raw material of the digital economy. For Anthony Whelan of the EC’s DG Connect, digital is not just something that you deal with once and is done: it needs to be considered a highest priority to keep under watch at all times. He explained that e-commerce is the current key focus, with the digital single market strategy aiming to tear down the barriers to cross-border online sales and ensure harmonious regulation of physical goods. Indeed, the single market is ‘single’ whether digital or physical, said new MEP Roza Thun, observing that anything akin to ‘geo-blocking’ in the physical world would be regarded as discrimination. Erika Mann of Facebook turned to innovative business models, such as Skype and Spotify, which Europe has been able to create in the digital space: understanding where the talent comes from, how they connect and how they get financed may be as important as regulating.


“The key message from the session on European digital agenda targets was that the one size fits all strategy cannot work for all regions of Europe.”


WHAT ABOUT EUROPE’S BROADBAND TARGETS?

The key message from the second session, which discussed the digital agenda targets, was that the one size fits all strategy cannot work for all regions of Europe. Turkey, where broadband penetration can vary between 60% and under 15%, shows as much, according to Ramazan Demir of Türk Telekom. One successful strategy for boosting investment, he added, has been to tie penetration rates with a five year fibre ‘holiday’. Even though predictable and credible regulation can go a long way in mitigating the risk of long-term investment, stated Harald Gruber of the European Investment Bank, different financial instruments will be needed to adequately fit each situation.

Hartwig Tauber of FTTH Council Europe added that the most efficient way to bring broadband to rural areas, which is still a big problem, may well be to treat it like a municipal utility. But where public money is involved, it becomes imperative to ensure that the targets still make sense and are futureproof. For BT’s Adrian Whitchurch, it is important that regulators take an evolutionary approach to technology and also look beyond infrastructure to ensure that regulation is coherent across the various areas. Policy should aim to create a climate of confidence in all investors, big and small, according to Michael Hatterman of the Association of Telecommunications and Value-Added Service Providers. In Germany and in several other EU countries, it is not the incumbents but competitors that have made the majority (or at least a large proportion) of investments: the challenge is to create a level playing field between the incumbents and competitors.

 

THE TRUE DIGITAL REVOLUTION: OTT, APPS AND THE SHARING ECONOMY

Two sessions discussed how apps and over-the-top (OTT) players have changed the world. In the session devoted to ‘OTTs’, Theo Bertram (Google) argued that the relationship between OTTs and telcos/broadcasters is symbiotic and policy should recognise that partnerships are a model for reform, considering that much-needed investment and innovation also comes from OTTs. The OTT world has set the standards with which even cable now wants to compete, observed Manuel Kohnstamm of Liberty Global, so the OTT way of distributing TV content should be viewed as an opportunity. Policymakers should really assess whether legacy regulation still make sense and perhaps seize the opportunity to deregulate instead of re-regulating.

The biggest change in communications markets, according to Ofcom’s Steve Gettings, has been driven by smartphones and the emergence of bundled services that cut across telecoms and broadcasting. With smart TVs, viewers do not perceive a difference between linear and non-linear television and this challenges the rationale for distinct audiovisual media and telecoms regulation, which have had very different traditions. For Holger Enßlin of Sky Deutschland, the consumer remains the core focus in both linear and non-linear TV. Regulation should also put the consumer at the heart of policy.

As the EC is currently reviewing the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), Lorena Boix Alonso (DG Connect) explained that the directive will look at services, not players, so anyone offering the same service, no matter who or how, will be subject to the directive. The objectives of the AVMSD are not just economic but also cultural – to foster more European AV productions.

Would new regulation work better than deregulation? The discussion highlighted that success in pursuing regulatory objectives should be measured against the cost of compliance, to ensure that policy is driven by evidence rather than passion. Similarly, when looking at the sharing economy, its benefits should be adequately measured, even with the involvement of the national statistical offices, argued Emanuela Lecchi (Watson, Farley & Williams), relating the key messages of a report on the sharing economy.

For example, while consumers definitely benefit from more competition, lower prices and lower traffic congestion in the cities when they use the Uber app, most of the regulation in the taxi industry appears to be for the protection of the incumbent rather than the consumer, according to Filip Nuytemans of Uber. The benefits of the sharing economy in the tourism sector are huge, explained Patrick Robinson (AirBnB), and regulation should aim to let the sharing economy act as an enabler. Instead, regulators are often lobbied to believe that apps, like e-commerce, are dominated by the US and so are bad for Europe, noted Chris Sherwood of e-commerce player, Allegro. Regulation may be aimed at ‘taming’ large US companies but ends up hurting many smaller European players, as clearly was the case with the initial version of the European data protection regulation, in his view.

 

CLOUD, M2M AND THE DATA ECONOMY

The complex issues of data security, privacy, and a key player in the cloud domain, Amazon Web Services (AWS), opened the debate on the data economy. Stéphane Ducable from AWS argued that core to these policy priorities is putting data protection, ownership and control in the hands of cloud users. In the AWS cloud, customers own the data – they choose where to store it and they can keep their data in Europe.

Jens-Henrik Jeppesen of the Center for Democracy & Technology suggested that users want to share some data with some companies but not all data with all companies. So regulation needs to provide a way for users to control and understand what data is being collected, by whom, for what purposes; who the data is being shared with; how long it is being kept; and whether it is being kept safe and secure. Companies need to be explicit about their use of data so that customers can make their choices.

Markus Reinisch of Vodafone introduced the idea of a parallel ‘industrial internet’ for developing machine to machine (M2M) and other enterprise services, which is very different from the consumer internet and is regulated differently. Enterprise services can be a real engine of growth, but the regulatory regime is relatively narrow. Cloud computing and other data services are essential to the European Union, recognised Pearse O’Donohue of DG Connect, and while the initial policy for enabling the cloud to grow has been successful, confidence and trust need to be addressed.

Data policy was also a key theme of the final expert panel, which discussed a possible wish-list for the digital single market. Fátima Barros, chair of European regulators body, BEREC, said that a roadmap for the digital single market must begin from the understanding that communications can no longer be viewed as a market on its own, but linked to many others. Participants agreed that the next set of data rules should be drafted by looking across all sectors and not narrowly at the communications industry. Stephen Collins (Microsoft) echoed the view that digital markets are no longer just about communications: the cloud and the internet of things are likely to revolutionise sectors such as agriculture. Another point was a greater focus on demand and incentives, from education to tax breaks.

A Europe that uses digital services to improve productivity, public services and citizens’ lives is one of two necessary conditions for a truly digital economy to lift off, according to John Higgins (Digital Europe). The second is a Europe where technology businesses can thrive and become world-class.

Francine Mariani-Ducray (CSA – Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel) concluded by reminding delegates that promotion of diverse cultures must remain an important objective of the digital single market. Taxation of digital services is another major issue under discussion, as is copyright. With the latter, the solution lies in finding new ways to reward creators, but removing territoriality is not the answer.

 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: THE YEAR OF INTERNET GOVERNANCE EVOLUTION

Internet governance has until now been determined at a series of meetings and institutions where stakeholders (consumers, government, civil society) have convened to resolve internet-related issues. As the internet becomes more important, more issues are up for discussion and more stakeholders are interested in participating, which makes consensus ever more difficult to reach. While 2014 laid the ground for many important changes in internet governance, this year will see most of those changes bearing fruit.

For Sally Shipman Wentworth of the Internet Society, the essence of the internet is its ability to evolve. Part of the challenge in doing this, she said, is that many stakeholders have really strong views on how that should happen. Ki-Joo Lee of the Korea Communications Commission said that the corporate world has a strong role to play in internet governance, especially with problems such as cybersecurity, but governments should make a big effort to participate, especially those in developing countries.

No problem can be solved by one group alone, and not all issues can be solved within the multi-stakeholder model, but participation in these groups is essential, agreed Oliver Süme from ISP body, EuroISPA. Finally, ICANN’s Jean-Jacques Sahel updated the audience on the work that has taken place to ensure that there is a robust system in place in ICANN once the backstop of the US government is no longer there, as its planned exit is for this September.

The IIC’s spring TMF in Brussels took place a few months into the work of the new European Commission, as Cristina Murroni reports.

Intermedia Issue:
Vol 43, Issue 2
Issue Date:
June 2015
Cristina Murroni Cristina Murroni Telecoms and Media Analyst

Vol 43, Issue 2 Features

Vital Signs 15.01.2020
Privacy Research Directions 15.01.2020
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