“Same service, same rules”: Regulation of new digital ecosystem discussed at REGU meeting

reguweb1The relation between mobile operators, internet players and users was the main topic of discussion at the second annual meeting of GSMA Latin America’s Regulatory Working Group (REGU), held on 6 and 7 November in Cartagena, Colombia. Participants at the meeting included some 30 leading executives from Latin America’s telecommunications industry responsible for regulatory, legal and public affairs matters.

Encouraging the application of ‘same rules for same services’ was the message that united GSMA members in the face of the invasion by what are known as Over-The-Top (OTT) services. Although many of these services now function as direct competitors of, or substitutes for, traditional voice and SMS services, they are beyond regulations and national taxes. ‘If the services or products are substitutes, then similar regulatory frameworks should apply, because otherwise competition would be distorted,’ said Matías Fernández Díaz, GSMA Latin America Regulatory Manager.

Representatives from the regional operators agreed on the importance of less regulation for all parts of the digital ecosystem so they can compete as equals without innovation being affected. Without the same rules for the same services, there is no fair competition, posing a risk for quality, investment in networks and user experience. ‘Regulatory asymmetries must be eliminated by applying the same rules to the same services, regardless of the technology used or the geographical origin of the provider. This will make user experience consistent with regard to quality of service, security, transparency and privacy,’ Fernández Díaz said.

The REGU meeting began with a wide-ranging discussion about important regulatory matters on the mobile ecosystem agenda among representatives of mobile operators from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Peru, Mexico and Venezuela. Items on the working agenda included regulating new business models (Zero Ratio and Sponsored Data plans), the 700MHz band and the importance of a clean-up schedule, taxes as an obstacle to universalising mobile internet and regulating Internet of Things in Latin America.

The meeting was held at the same time as the 24th Plenary Meeting of Regulatel (Forum of Latin American Telecommunications Regulators) and Cullen International’s 6th Latam-EU Symposium on Telecommunications & Media Regulation. It was supported by the Colombian Communications Regulation Commission (CRC) and attended by regional telecommunications regulators.

reguweb22Net neutrality was another central issue. The mobile industry supports the principle of open internet so that users can access the contents, apps and services of their choice with the best possible experience and without discrimination. Unlike fixed networks, the performance and quality of experience of mobile networks are more sensitive to variation in traffic and variations in environmental conditions. For mobile operators to be able to offer an efficient user experience, they must have the flexibility to manage traffic transparently and protect users from major internet threats (spam, malware etc).

The meeting in Cartagena was the second this year for the REGU working group, which brings together Latin American experts in regulating the mobile services industry. GSMA has four working groups, headed by the executives of GSMA member companies.