I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I was starting to believe that telecoms regulators around the world were relaxing their draconian grip on an industry that has, for the most part, been ‘deregulated’ in some form or another for best part of thirty years. Before you start asking what I’ve been smoking, let me point out that, to my knowledge, we no longer have any countries with PTT monopolies in place. Apparently, that’s where deregulation stops.
Freer competition in the market does NOT mean less regulation. Apart from forcing the old monopolies to open up their networks and set ‘fair’ wholesale pricing to competitors, the regulators (and the governments behind them) keep sticking their noses in where they are not necessarily wanted or needed. The result is an industry that is so over-regulated it makes a farce of the terms ‘free market’ and ‘open competition,’ and the excuses for regulation are becoming more and more absurd.
National security has become the main driver for regulation of late. The horrific events of 9/11 and the subsequent ‘terrorist paranoia’ that set in allowed governments to push through far-reaching legislation that effected dramatic changes not only on national security coverage but also setting back civil liberties that took decades to achieve.
Apart from air travel the next most effected sector is telecommunications in all its forms. Governments now have the legal right to eavesdrop any voice conversation, read any electronic data and intercept any form of instant messaging. Privacy, at the cost of protection, is no longer the right of any citizen. Everything we do electronically, it seems, is being tracked.
And it’s not just governments taking advantage. It is rumored that third parties such as Google are amassing data about all our online habits, ostensibly for the purpose of making our lives easier when we go looking for something on the net. What is really happening is that same data is being used extensively for the purposes of profiling us into specific socio-economic groups and selling this information to advertisers wanting to target us.
The recent and ongoing BlackBerry ban threats by some regulators are examples of worst case scenarios of privacy vs protection. Is it really about national security or an attempt to control what citizens have access to?
So, who is all this regulation really for and who does it actually protect? Regardless all the arguments we hear about net neutrality, every other form of telecommunications is anything but neutral or private. Perhaps the worst effect of all this regulation is the fact that much of the cost, particularly enforcement, falls squarely in the hands of the CSPs.
That may have been OK when PTT monopolies were controlled and funded by governments but these days CSPs are commercial enterprises facing the same challenges as any other business. Increasing sales, cutting costs and maintaining profits are their priorities. It may not be long before they are forced to challenge the regulators and say, ‘enough is enough’! If you want us to do your work for you then you cover the cost.
For the rest of us it’s a matter of privacy vs protection and what we feel is most important. At the moment, however, that is not a choice we can make.