Telecoms regulation needs to evolve to cope with a rapidly changing industry — the traditional mechanisms are no longer working.

With mergers and new entrants complicating the marketplace, regulators must find a way to balance competition with encouraging investment and innovation while still ensuring consumers get the best service.

Greater knowledge and understanding of mergers will need to be developed, something that the current consolidation trend force. This will need to be knowledge that can be put in to practice, implementing it on a basis that does not distort competition, yields benefits to consumers, and still incentivises investment and innovation.

As a result many of these changes need to happen before 2020 to support the balance between traditional telecoms operators and OTT (over-the-top) players. At present there is a lack of symmetry on many issues such as switching, privacy and data protection, identification and safety which regulation will need to resolve.

By 2020 increased broadband rollout and superfast speeds coupled with new market entrants will have changed the fixed market — meaning that regulators will need to pay close attention to new issues as pricing, bundles, competition and barriers to entry.

Regulation in 2020 will also need to not be restricted to the management of present market conditions. It needs to play a role in supporting and encouraging the development of new fixed and mobile technologies — including 5G, G.FAST, TWDM-PON — in order to guarantee and improve the long term health of the industry. It will also need to be designed to support innovations in telecoms, particularly those that enable operators to begin investing in infrastructure that can support ultrafast dense networks.

This role will also need to extend to ensuring that less-profitable ventures, such as the extension of fibre in to rural areas, are not overlooked at the expense of new technologies and super-fast city networks.

Crucially, this is not just a challenge that the regulators themselves need to tackle. Governments also need to evolve mobile spectrum policy, enabling quicker access to spectrum for operators and balancing the needs of new entrants and incumbents. This needs to extend beyond national border, particularly in Europe where the EU needs to be implementing uniform regulation across member states to limit distortions in competition.

The need for governments to play a part in the evolution of telecoms regulation in coming years highlights how rapid the requirements of this challenge need to be met. We may be discussing the regulation of 2020, but steps need to start being taken in 2016 if we’re to be fully prepared — particularly as regulators’ remit will need to expand.

Originally published on TechUK as a guest blog during Telecoms2020 week.

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