The Regulatory Challenges Posed by Communications Platforms

Regulation has played a fundamental role in the platformization of the communications industry, even if such a role has often not been made explicit and has even been ignored.

When digital platforms compete with traditional telecom and media companies, a level playing field must be ensured. Protecting traditional players against disruption should not be a policy goal. Competition on merits can lead to substitution if platforms are more efficient and deliver a better deal for consumers. Nonetheless, substitution should not be enabled or accelerated just because platforms enjoy regulatory advantages. Such advantages might derive from being excluded from the traditionally strict regulation of network industries. However, the level playing field should not be constructed by means of merely extending to platforms the rules designed for the tradicional players. Advantages might derive from benefits specifically granted to digital players from the outset of the digital revolution as with liability. It appears that the time has come to reconsider such privileges and achieve a new balance.

More nuanced is the vertical relationship between platforms and traditional network companies. Platforms often build their services on top of preexisting infrastructures and network effects. The conditions at which traditional companies make their assets and services available to platforms are often determined by regulation. Regulation must take into consideration the new balance of power among platforms, telecom carriers, and media companies. Regulation should not accelerate the commodification of telecom and media services to the advantage of platforms.

Finally, regulation should acknowledge the general interest in the communications industries. The traditional regulation of telecoms and media have often pursued the objective of fostering access to such services at affordable rates and protecting free speech and pluralism in public debate. The platform revolution is not diminishing the relevance of such public policy goals, but requires new instruments to make them effective.

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