“The EC’s fine is quite a slap ... but neither this, nor the remedies Google are being required to put in place are likely to structurally alter the market, suggests Luca Schiavoni, a senior analyst with Assembly Research.
“[It] fails to set out structural remedies for a market which almost inevitably tends towards concentration, and therefore is difficult to break up without significant disruptions. End users value interoperability, and so do application developers, which means the case for more competition in the space of operating systems is not so clear.
“Similarly, search engines are successful because of their algorithm and of the large data pools they can rely on, which creates a spiralling network effect driving users towards the largest providers almost naturally.
“While regulators figure out how to best approach all these issues, fines help the public coffers – but do not solve any market problem."
Industry observers noted that the additional price regulations appeared to contradict the goals of the EU by adding more rules and that co-investment measures weren’t satisfactory.
“Very often, when regulatory measures are widely criticised and seeming leave everyone unhappy, it often means policymakers have probably struck the right balance,” said Luca Schiavoni, senior analyst at Assembly.
“This might not be the case with the newly approved European Electronic Communications Code however, which has seen both fixed incumbents and alternative operators alike voicing discontent, and left mobile operators disappointed by the unfulfilled promise of 25-years long spectrum licences.
“One winner however does seems to emerge and that is the wholesale-only model. Under the code, wholesale-only networks will benefit from less burdensome regulation. If this results in more wholesale-only networks across the EU, at least it will mean the end of the eternal headaches caused by the existing framework on wholesale access regulation, which has proved very hard to get right and to police across all member states. However, the challenge here will be to ensure that competition at the infrastructure level becomes (and stays) healthy."
The end result of this is likely to be greater regulation of social media platforms, but what this means is still up for debate. It’s possible that the imminent arrival of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation could be a basis for other regulators.
“In the hearings, Zuckerberg repeated a concept he has been voicing for the last few weeks, and admitted regulation is now ‘inevitable’ for online platforms,” says Luca Schiavoni, an analyst with Assembly Research. “He also added, though, that regulation could be easy to comply with for a large company like Facebook, whereas this could be more difficult for a smaller start-up.
“Size of businesses aside, regulation will have to be designed with two objectives in mind: the improvement of transparency and user awareness; and the flexibility needed to make sure rules do not become outdated too quickly. To this end, well-monitored guidelines could go a long way, so long as there are sufficient incentives for companies to keep a trustworthy behaviour.”
Indeed, it will be the 700MHz frequencies used by Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) that are the next to be made available at auction – possibly next year – so although this was an important development, it wasn’t judgement day.
“An unsatisfactory outcome in this auction was never going to necessarily spell the end to any one operators 5G future given that the technology will ultimately work across a number of spectrum bands, both new ones and ones already held by the mobile operators,” commented Matthew Howett from Assembly Research.