“Game over” for traditional regulation and a call for regulatory innovation

Telecom regulators in the EU tend to lose importance in the ICT ecosystem as the companies subject to their regulation (the telecom companies) become less competitive on the global digital economy playing field. EU telecommunications providers are increasingly being bypassed and left behind by larger digital platforms and cloud providers – and by China’s “techno state policy.” To make matters worse, regulators, by their current mandate, focus primarily on market conditions rather than the broader interests of structural-strategic competitiveness and digital sovereignty.

The reasons for this unsatisfactory situation are threefold: (1) regulators do not have a mandate to address the broader interests of the digital sector, (2) they do not have a mandate to use a broader set of tools beyond the traditional telecom regulatory policy, and (3) some of them have developed a certain blindness to the major changes, further reinforced by institutional fossilization of regulatory governance. Telecom regulators need to break out of their sectoral silos to become more effective in the ICT ecosystem. Looking at BEREC’s work in recent years, one can see a certain willingness to do so, yet the defining policy twins of this decade, sustainability and digitization, have not yet sufficiently arrived in BEREC’s strategic outlook, not to mention in implementation. In any case, the introduction of 6G offers an opportunity to do so because of its new challenges.

Resulting from the current unsatisfactory situation outlined above, new regulatory approaches are needed. To this end, we propose an intelligent combination of regulation, innovation policy and industrial policy to account for situational complexity and interdependencies adequately. This can also promote regulatory innovation such as anticipatory regulation, sandboxing and flexible policymaking in the telecommunications and digital ecosystem. The rapid rise of the chatbot ChatGPT, which gained 100 million users within just two months of its public unveiling and thus set the record for the fastest-growing digital service to date, is an obvious illustration of the regulatory dilemma in which policymakers and regulators increasingly find themselves. The growing speed gap between digital innovation, on the one hand, and related legislation and regulation on the other, is rendering outdated policy approaches and regulation obsolete. In the coming months, we will see a race between the major digital platforms to offer competing services to ChatGPT, and with the imminent integration of these chatbots into existing business suites (such as Microsoft Teams or similar services from Google), they will become mass-market ready.