The note published by Mark Zuckerberg on 6 March 2019 sets out the new approach Facebook aims to take for its communications services. It will be more focused on privacy and less on public sharing compared to the past, reflecting on new demands of the market and taking on board some of the lessons of the past. However, the plan could fall short of addressing the issues identified by regulators, which no longer see privacy in isolation from competition problems. The promise of full-encryption across platforms is also likely to face regulatory challenges.
As the issue of security in 5G networks gains momentum, policymakers around the world are taking contrasting approaches. Concerns around the use of Chinese vendors is resulting in outright bans in some countries (US, Australia, New Zealand), whereas others are yet to take a definite stance, such as the UK whose government is finalising a review of the telecoms supply chain. Operators were initially quiet on the issue, but they are now taking explicit stances to keep the market for network equipment as competitive as possible, to avoid delays and increased costs in 5G roll-out. As our Cybersecurity Tracker shows, It is likely that vendors will have to face more thorough scrutiny, whereas operators could end up having to avoid using one single vendor in core parts of their networks, as proposed in Germany.
The Committee for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport of the UK Parliament (DCMS Committee) has now completed its inquiry into Fake News, which lasted throughout 2018. The inquiry started as an investigation on the spread of disinformation and its role in influencing elections, and soon turned to the link between tech companies’ practices and the protection of citizens’ personal data. The final report makes strong recommendations to set up new regulators and laws around social media; however, it is unlikely that government and parliament will take immediate action to address the issues raised in the inquiry.
Recent cases have seen competition regulators intervening against tech giants, Facebook in particular. The most recent is a ruling in Germany, where the competition watchdog did not issue a fine, but instead ordered Facebook to stop practices which are a key part of the company’s business model. This, alongside other ongoing cases, could be a signal of a new regulatory trend, in which antitrust regulators aim to solve the issues that privacy regulators alone have not been able to address. Once again, Europe is leading the way, with countries elsewhere watching attentively.
On 18 January 2019, The Italian regulator AGCOM has published the long-awaited draft review of the Wholesale Broadband Access markets (Markets 3a/3b and 4 of the EC’s Recommendation on relevant markets). The proposal aims to deregulate the market in Milan, and introduces nuanced price control remedies in the rest of the country, recognising market evolution of recent years. The publication of the lengthy and complex document (454 pages long) was delayed due to Telecom Italia proposing the legal separation of its fixed network, in a way similar to the separation of Openreach within the BT Group in the UK. AGCOM has provisionally concluded that the plan does not affect the shape of WBA markets in a significant way, and leaves the regulatory burden on TIM nearly intact compared to the past. This could be a further incentive for TIM to ditch the plan, at a time when a change of leadership is now pushing for the network to be entirely spun off and merged with wholesale-only operator Open Fiber.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has issued a preliminary report as part of its inquiry on digital platforms, which started at the end of 2017. The report carries 11 recommendations, and identifies nine areas for further investigation, which will likely be tackled in more detail by the final report to be published by June 2019. Stakeholders have time until February 2019 to provide their input on the comprehensive measures, which give a strong hint at the possible shape of platform regulation in Australia. The ACCC’s initiative is the most thorough and far-reaching regulatory initiative around online platforms so far – even more than the European Commission’s Platform-to-Business proposal, whose scope relates to the interaction between platforms and business users.
Rural mobile coverage continues to be an issue in many areas of the UK. While the latest Connected Nations report from Ofcom shows improvements compared to previous years, it also finds a significant part of the country is lacking sufficient coverage and will not be in a better place anytime soon, unless action is taken. For these reasons, the regulator is launching two complementary initiatives: one is the award of more spectrum to mobile operators, particularly in the 700MHz band, which is well suited to improve network coverage; the second is a plan to support spectrum sharing in the 3.8–4.2GHz band. This should equip operators with more airwaves for coverage, while at the same time making room for innovative approaches in which local operators and new businesses could play a role. Ofcom will seek input from stakeholders on both proposals until 12 March 2019.
The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, made the headlines with his recent interview in which he called regulation of tech companies “inevitable”, and concluded that the free market has failed to deliver. His prediction is likely to be accurate, as policymakers increasingly see cases for intervention with regard to data protection and disinformation. Tech giants now need to move toward a more detailed and coherent stance around regulation; a generic call for pro-business regulation will not suffice, and companies’ need to match their words with action in order for them to retain trust with all stakeholders.
On 4 December 2018, ministers of EU member states gathered in the respective groups of the European Council, to discuss two proposals on a Digital Service Tax and on the e-Privacy regulation. On both issues, EU countries are still clearly divided, and are failing to make significant progress. The Romanian presidency will now try to reach a compromise on these two legislative positions, although it is increasingly likely that neither of them will be finalised before the next European elections of May 2019.
This note will be updated as and when witnesses appear in front of various committees that are addressing the topic of misinformation and the use of personal data.
The Italian government is aiming to facilitate the creation of a wholesale-only network provider, resulting from the spin-off of Telecom Italia’s fixed network and its merger with Open Fiber. The move aims to facilitate investment in ultra-broadband, in a country where network duplication is particularly undesirable due to how the population is distributed. However, the government should be mindful not to kill competition between infrastructure, which would still be viable and desirable in many areas of the country, a model which is also playing out positively in other countries.
On 6 November 2018, representatives of the cable operators gathered in London for the Cable NextGen Europe conference. The picture that emerged is one of an industry with some meaningful ammunition under its belt for the years aheaD, in the form of innovative video platforms such as Vodafone’s new Cloud TV, and of new technology through which Gigabit speeds can be a reality – even in Europe, where ultrafast broadband is lagging behind other regions. However, 5G is still a huge question mark for cablecos; yet fixed–mobile convergence and the demand for backhaul coming from MNOs could create opportunities operators should be ready to seize.
The 2018 Conference of the UK Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA) took place in London on 30 October, at a time when the UK broadband market is undergoing fundamental change. Panels of usually opposing sides were characterised by comparatively little conflict, perhaps reflective of the new conciliatory nature of today’s infrastructure builders. Challenges however do exist on the horizon, especially owing to the ambitious targets set by the government for full-fibre deployment to every home by 2033 and the continuing need to remove barriers to deployment. To this end, there was some criticism to the government’s recent budget statement, particularly on business rates reform; and alternative operators expect improvements once Ofcom overhauls the framework for access to Openreach’s ducts and poles.
US regulator the FCC has reformed the rules of the Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). The changes make licences much longer and wider in geographical scope; this will be seen favourably by the largest mobile operators in the country, whereas small local players will now struggle in obtaining licences. With this ruling, coupled with recent decisions aiming to streamline small cells deployment, the FCC shows its intention to facilitate the ability to grow at scale in 5G; something that large carriers consider crucial for the success of 5G. While such an approach could hinder innovation coming from smaller operators and new entrants, it shows that the FCC has a clear vision of what 5G should look like in the US, and is taking steps to make it happen quickly.
Today is the first day for former UK Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, as Facebook’s new head of global policy and communications. The move inevitably triggered contrasting reactions, but signals Facebook’s willingness to engage with institutions more constructively in the future. Despite the increasing regulatory pressure over the last few months, end users still get considerable utility from the services provided by the tech industry. Companies can improve their reputation by learning from the lessons 2018 has taught them: regulators are keen to take a hands-on approach to protect consumers, and businesses protect their interests better when they listen and engage. For Facebook, Clegg’s appointment might do just that.
We track the regulatory and policy actions to make 5G available. This includes planned and concluded spectrum auctions, and government strategies/roadmaps for 5G. We also detail operator-led initiatives, trials, and plans for commercial deployment of 5G services.
We track the implementation of cybersecurity regulation, with particular focus on recent EU Directives and Regulations. We also compare EU regulation with rules in Australia, US, Singapore, Korea, Japan. We also outline current debates and decisions such as around vendor selection.
This product tracks the increasing regulatory attention big tech companies and platforms are receiving from policymakers and their response. This includes efforts to tackle the dissemination of misinformation and hate speech online.
January 2019 Briefing
- Ofcom’s plans for 700MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz
- Italy’s wholesale broadband market review
- Proposals for a Digital Tax
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News Service: European Commission fines Google €1.49 billion https://t.co/NhMo6rzqCM
News Service: 27 regulators call on Apple and Google to improve transparency in app stores https://t.co/iRRg1mhwab
News Service: Sweden joins the growing list of countries voicing 5G security concerns https://t.co/GixFwzTR4Y
News Service: UK Government review says competition rules must be updated for the digital age https://t.co/HdgKJRDA29
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