Competition in the digital age: Between status-quo and unknown

7 Dec 2016 16:00h - 17:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

Mr Vincenzo Spiezia, Head of the Information and Communication Technologies Unit, OECD, started the session by presenting the complex nature of regulations that exist in regulating traditional services and new online services.  He pointed out the role of regulations in fostering competition and consumer protection.

Commenting on the status of regulation, Mr Joseph Alhadeff, Chief Policy Officer, Oracle, pointed out the importance of flexibility in implementing regulations. He added that regulations should be flexible with time, context, and the level at which the regulation is written. Alhadeff added that we need to consider how the regulations that already exist can be applied correctly. He further added that we need to understand the fundamental nature of rights while allowing us to still gain societal benefits from innovation.

Mr Eli Noam, Professor, Columbia Business School, pointed out that libertarianism is out and interventionism is in. He further extended his observation by explaining the enforcement of  regulations at various levels. Regulations are made based on the self-interests of incumbents, self-interest of regulators, and the public interests. He further predicted that going forward, governments will delegate regulation to cloud providers and other intermediaries. Given the complex nature of technology, instead of trying to run after everyone, governments would go after the intermediaries like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. He added that there will be no consistent or predictable regulations and the system will continue to be overloaded with even more regulations.

Ms Megan Richards, Director General, DG Connect, stated that the big task is to try to make sure that the regulations framed are technologically neutral. With the example of the e-commerce directive in the EU providing a standardized regulatory base, she highlighted the effectiveness of technologically neutral regulations. She explained how legislation, particularly in the case of Europe, follows a very complex, multi-level process that makes the task of framing innovation and consumers friendly regulation very difficult. She then pointed out the case of taxi drivers, being part of one of the most regulated sectors, dealing with competition from another group that doesn’t face regulations, creating an uneven playing field for the service providers.

Ms Sonia Jorge, Executive Director, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), added that no regulatory or policy decision is going to make everyone equally happy. However, the process can be improved by involving more stakeholders in the process. She presented the idea of regulation becoming compartmentalized, making it even more complex for the stakeholders involved. She stressed the need for Innovation as long as there is a fair behavior from all the competitors.

The issue of level playing field drew varied reactions from the panelists. The panel agreed that the question of stakeholder engagement and their roles should be reviewed. While multistakeholderism in framing regulations can be useful, it won’t be effective until every stakeholder has equal access to data and information.

The panel also briefly discussed the issue of emerging digital monopolies and the need to be ready to apply safeguards and interventionist policies when needed.

by Krishna Kumar, Internet Society