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Thursday, October 08, 2020

Platform regulation? Are you *sure*?

There's currently a lot of focus on regulation of technology platforms, because of concerns over monopoly power or privacy/data violations.

It's a central focus of the Digital Services Act proposed by the European Commission

It's under scrutiny as part of the US Congress House Judiciary Committee report on antitrust

Other governments also focus on "platforms", especially Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and a few others.

Typically, traditional telcos cheer on these moves against companies they (still!) wrongly refer to as "OTTs".

Yet there's a paradox here. While there are indeed concerns about big-tech monopoly abuse that must be addressed by regulators... they're not the only platforms that could be captured by the law.

I've lost count of the times I've heard "the network as a platform", or 5G is a platform" with QoS, network slicing etc often hyped as the basis for the future economy.

Yet telcos can have as much lock-in as Apple or Amazon. I can't get an EE phone service on my Vodafone mobile connection. I can't port-out my call detail records & online behaviour to a new operator. There's no "smart home portability law" if I sign up to my broadband provider's service. Or slice portability laws for enterprises.
On my LinkedIn version of this post [link], a GSMA strategist commented that unbundling some telco services "does not solve a customer pain point". Yet unbundling *does* often enable greater competition, innovation & lower consumer prices. You only have to look at the total lack of innovation in MNO/3GPP telephony & messaging services in the last 20 years to see the negative effects of lock-in & too-tight integration here. (VoLTE is not innovative, RCS is regressionary). 
Even more awkwardly, most of the mobile industry is currently using the exact same arguments in its push to get vendors to disaggregate the RAN.
Want 5G to be a platform? You'll be subject to the rules too. Be careful what you wish for... 
(By the way, I first wrote about this issue 6 years ago. The arguments haven't changed much at all since then: https://disruptivewireless.blogspot.com/2014/07/so-called-platform-neutrality-nothing.html )