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Monday, May 23, 2005

The View from Stockholm
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STOCKHOLM--Well, while you were still sleeping over in the US I spoke this morning at a panel entitled "Global Regulatory Update" at Jeff Pulver's VON Europe 2005 Conference. And I sat in on a session afterwards entitled, "Why I Want to Be a PATS". (PATS is another way of saying in European parlance a regulated telecom provider.)

Here are a few impressions from this morning:

-As I explained in my talk, in theory the EU regulatory regime for telecom is much different--and more coherent--than the US framework because it aspires to a "single regulatory framework" that treats all networks and services the same (assuming the same level of market power) irrespective of technology. In the US, I explained, of course, that our regulatory framework is still essentially tied to techno-functional constructs, so that comparable services (from the consumers) perspective may be and often are regulated quite differently. In practice, based on the presentations from my counterparts from Britain and Germany and on audience participation, I think the reality is that many EU countries are still strugling with how to regulate various types of VoIP services, especially ones interconnected with the PSTN, just as we are in the US. This is attributable, primarily, of course, to the fact that the EU regulatory framework is not binding at this point, so the national authorities remain free to develop their own regulations. And, at a national level, while thus far largely adhering in a general sense to the "light hand" approach regarding economic regulation, are wrestling with the same issues that we debate in the US concerning "naked DSL", "open access", number porting, and emergency services.

--I had a chance, especially in reply, to explain that there are definitely trade-offs whenever incumbents are required to provide naked DSL, open access, etc. etc. etc. on a regulated basis, and that from the perspective of ultimate consumer welfare, the trade-offs are not always in the direction of "regulate the incumbents". Indeed, I pointed out to the consternation, I'm sure, of more than a few, that it is wrong to automatically equate "incumbent" with the concept of "significant market power"--as most Europeans do. There seems to be much more of an assumption of continued incumbent market power by those in the EU countries than I think is justified.

--Finally, I should say that the Europeans seemed somewhat surprised at the regulatory firmness and alacrity with which the FCC has ordered VoIP providers to make available E911. The 120 day deadline surprised many. I had to confess, in the form of a rhetorical question, that I was not overly sure of the soundness of the FCC's jurisdictional basis of its action. As I understand it, the FCC is resting its regulatory action on its ancillary jurisdiction, by no means an autonmatic winner these days in the US appeals courts.

--And, really finally, congratulations to Jeff Pulver for organizing a terrific conference and attracting a very knowledgeable and friendly crowd.

posted by Randolph May @ 7:29 AM |

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