The emergence of the data economy will bring both huge benefits and enormous risks.
Future ecosystems based on massive connectivity, IoT and AI hold the promise of making major contributions to a better agriculture more respectful of the environment, to better (and less expensive) healthcare, to the battle against global warming – to name of few of the challenges facing the world.
Conversely, our future hyperconnected world will bring new risks to our private life, to the security of critical infrastructures from electricity distribution networks to cloud computing platforms, the reliability of hospitals, and the functioning of our democracies.
To reap the benefits of digitization while avoiding the pitfalls, regulation has to be reinvented. Individual regulators will have to be modernised: the data protection authority, the various cybersecurity bodies, the competition authority, the telecom regulator, the financial services authority and so on. This is also true of the way they will have to cooperate, as illustrated by the recent UK debate on the creation of a digital authority with oversight of the other regulators.
While different people around the world may have a different perspective on technology, ranging from the Asian technophiles to the (sometimes) European technophobes, all share a need for security. The issue is on the top of legislative agendas in many countries. Measures include the obligations for companies to notify data breaches to authorities (and even to data subjects), the development of new cyber security standards, the prohibition for manufacturers to market devices with standard default passwords (e.g. 1234), or the definition of APIs for the exchange of data.
While competition in telecoms, and ICT in general, is the key driver in the relationship among firms and between firms and consumers, there is a growing belief among legislators/regulators that more regulation is needed to protect consumers and contribute to secure digital inclusion.
Initiatives fall into two broad categories:
- Consumer empowerment tools such as Apps tracking QoS parameters or price comparison websites. The idea is to nudge consumers to make the right decision
- Fairness. When does the exploitation of behavioural biases become an unfair practice regulatory-wise?
Digital inclusion also raises the classic questions of the definition and funding of the universal service for connectivity. What are the minimum services required to secure digital inclusion for people living in remote/sparsely populated areas and for poor people?
How can these policies be implemented without stifling innovation and without distorting competition?
Connectivity is one of the key enablers for the emergence of a data economy. With the growing digitisation of the economy and society, a key political question is the minimum speed and quality that should be available to most businesses and citizens.
This is a separate issue from the definition of a universal service. The former is a political objective and future-oriented, while the latter is a legal right and a safety net.
Targets defined by governments are often ahead of the actual demand from the market. This results in what is often described as an investment gap, but which finds its roots in a lack of current demand.
How can regulators, policy-makers and industry work together to create an environment where demand for high-speed networks is stimulated and where more investment is channelled towards the modernisation of networks? I look forward to moderating a panel of experts discussing these issues – and the answers to these questions – in the Forum debate on “Regulating the future: safe, inclusive, connected” at ITU Telecom World 2019 in Budapest this September