GSMA Warns Against Fragmentation of Digital Economy Rules
It's not just telecom operators that are being disrupted by new technologies.
Communications regulators, traditionally preoccupied with spectrum and competition issues, must now contend with a broad swathe of digital society topics, from privacy and AI to fraud and security.
Emanuela Lecchi, head of public policy for the GSMA Asia-Pacific, says with telcos cooperating extensively with content and OTT players, regulators are focusing "much more on the digital society, not just the telecoms piece."
But she said the GSMA was worried about the potential for "fragmentation" across industries and geographies.
"In a convergent environment you are now looking at so many sectors, and so many areas, with so many things that can potentially go wrong. We advise governments that, whatever their level of development, the important thing is to have harmonized regulation."
She said in Asia-Pacific that as well as talking to individual governments, the GSMA spent time with regional forums such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to try to build common policies.
In a diverse region such as Asia-Pacific, priorities varied widely.
For countries such as South Korea and Japan, one of the major concerns was cross-border data flows, essential for data-intensive AI.
"If you're China or India, you can create your own ecosystem. If you're a small country, you need a mechanism to get the data," she said.
Japan's Prime Minister Abe put the issue on the agenda for the Osaka G20 meeting held in July. It didn't go far -- leaders committed to nothing more than more discussion on digital commerce rules.
Lecchi acknowledged that even the GSMA had divided views.
It is in favor of cross-border data flows, but it also holds that every country has the right to issue its own laws for cybersecurity.
"So there's a little bit of tension between the two. You want to reach a system where there are cross-border data flows but also cybersecurity is protected."
In developing countries, more fundamental issues, such as registering new births, are the focus.
Some countries don't give an ID to new-born babies, which makes it impossible to get a digital identity to prove who you are online.
“So operators are helping register new births," said Lecchi.
When it comes to the competitive environment for operators, Lecchi notes that the ground rules seem to be shifting.
Telcos are heavily regulated but their OTT rivals are not.
"Operators have had to deal with a playing field that is not level ever since the advent of the smartphone changed the rules of the game in 2008," she said.
But now Apple is facing anti-trust suits, while lawmakers and politicians are talking of reining in Facebook and Google.
Lecchi said she was seeing "more awareness" among regulators about competition conditions for telcos.
The belief that low-entry barriers would hold big tech firms in check is also being questioned.
"I think economists in the US and Europe are changing their tune," said Lecchi.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading