Mobile Ecosystem Forum CEO Dario Betti explores the challenges and trends that telecom, internet and media players will have to contend with this year.
Around the globe, governments and regulatory bodies are poised to redefine the telecoms ecosystem. We can expect changes to exert a profound impact on the competitive dynamics, consumer rights and the overall conduct of business in our increasingly digital age. There are four critical areas the sector needs to pay particular attention to as 2024 will see the genesis of a new regulatory framework for both telecommunications and the internet.
Global networks in the age of post-globalisation
The initial strides taken by the European Union through the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA) are likely to catalyse a broader discourse on fostering heightened competition and accountability in digital platforms. Simultaneously, the regulatory divergence in internet governance – particularly in China – challenges the once-assumed uniformity of online experiences. This shift marks a significant factor in reshaping our legal frameworks.
Over the past three decades, the internet, telecom, and media markets have been deeply shaped by the forces of globalisation. However, recent geopolitical tensions – the impacts of the pandemic and political discord between the USA, EU, China and Russia – have marked a shift. The internet, telecom, and media sectors are now perceived as critical security aspects requiring increased oversight and regulation.
The influence of China’s regulatory approach, epitomised by the Great Firewall, has triggered similar interventions in liberal democracies, as seen in the EU’s DMA and DSA. This marks a departure from market-oriented globalisation toward more localised and protective regulatory frameworks, with both broadband network operators and online content providers under increased scrutiny.
The economic value of consolidation
The regulatory focus on market consolidation and the decreasing number of mobile and broadband operators in various countries reflects the changing economic landscape.
Competitive pressures are inhibiting telecom and media players’ efforts to augment average revenues, leading to a reduction in profitability. Despite the challenges, the deployment of new and advanced networks necessitates significant cyclical investments.
National governments are increasingly interested in supporting network investments and considering strategies to foster market consolidation. The reduction in the number of mobile and broadband operators in various countries highlights this shift, as policymakers seek innovative approaches to facilitate the deployment of advanced networks into underserved areas.
The new value of privacy
The mounting concerns regarding data privacy, coupled with the surge in data-driven services, will prompt a thorough examination of regulations governing the collection, storage and utilisation of personal information. Striking a delicate balance between encouraging innovation and safeguarding consumer data rights is expected to be a central point of contention and discussion.
Although multiple global regulations are in place, their operative impacts have been limited. The focus now shifts toward deploying and monitoring the implementation of these rules. The European GDPR stands as a cornerstone, and its implementation and evolution will be pivotal in the 2024 agenda. Data breaches and economic models reliant on private data sharing remain significant challenges, underscoring the need for stringent enforcement and legal implications.
The growing importance of identity in internet regulation
While the absence of a stringent identity framework was initially perceived as a means to foster equality and freedom of expression on the internet, the current regulatory landscape grapples with escalating issues like identity fraud, protection of minors, business impersonation and counterfeiting. This growing importance of identity-related concerns is anticipated to be a focal point, warranting robust regulatory responses.
Identity-related discussions will involve both customer identity and network/sender identity. The push for greater anonymity on the internet has led to challenges in protecting minors, particularly with the success of online social media and messaging platforms. Age verification emerges as a pressing concern.
Simultaneously, telecom regulators grapple with network and sender identity issues, including phishing, spam and unwanted calls. Initiatives like the US Federal Communications Commission’s anti-robocall solution highlight the regulatory response to identity-related challenges.
Other issues to for telecoms players to consider
Despite economic apprehensions leading to a slowdown in 5G investment levels by operators, nations remain steadfast in their commitment to harness the transformative potential of this technology. Regulatory bodies will deliberate on critical issues including spectrum allocation, security standards and privacy concerns associated with the deployment of 5G infrastructure.
After a period of relative calm, the principles of net neutrality are set to return to the forefront of regulatory discussions. This resurgence, particularly evident in the US, will reignite international debates, prompting regulators to explore measures aimed at maintaining an open and level playing field for all digital services and content providers.
Emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain will garner increased regulatory attention. Discussions will pivot around establishing standards, ensuring security and fostering interoperability to facilitate the orderly growth of these interconnected ecosystems.
The imperative of bridging the digital divide and ensuring universal access to affordable and reliable telecommunications services will stand as a top regulatory priority. Initiatives will be launched with the aim of expanding connectivity to underserved and rural areas, striving to make digital inclusion a tangible reality.
As cyber threats continue to evolve, regulatory efforts will concentrate on enhancing the resilience and security of telecom networks and services. Central to these discussions will be the formulation and implementation of cybersecurity standards and incident response protocols.
The increasing influence of sustainability and environmental concerns on regulations will exert pressure on telecommunications providers to adopt eco-friendly practices in network deployment and operation. However, regulatory bodies currently lack a clear mandate to address the environmental impact, prompting a quest for frameworks to integrate sustainability considerations.
Telecom and internet law promises to be the focal point of numerous significant discussions this year. This dynamic landscape presents an exciting time for stakeholders in the field, but industry players will need to navigate the intricacies of the regulatory agenda, shaping a future where the mobile ecosystem continues to be a driving force of connectivity and innovation.
By Dario Betti
Dario Betti is the CEO of Mobile Ecosystem Forum, a global trade body focused on the mobile ecosystem.
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