Strand Consult: 2014 annus horribilis for telecom regulation

Amid the talk of IT growth in 2014, here’s a grim prediction for the coming year: Strand Consult predicts this year to be an “annus horribilis” for the telecom regulation industry.

In its yearly mobile telecom roundup note, the analyst firm has called out Europe as the problem area compared to the “strong leadership” of the US, adding that privacy, data protection and net neutrality “will merge in a nasty way”.

Strand predicts a regulatory mess, although adding as a caveat the appointment of Tom Wheeler, the new chair of the FCC who will institute the “woefully overdue” implementation for telecom regulation modernisation.

Nevertheless, it’s still a brutal term, made famous of course by the Queen in 1992. So what has Strand got up its sleeve as evidence?

Key to this forecast is the tumultuous status operators and carriers currently hold. John Strand, CEO of Strand Consult, notes there is an irony that whilst the telecom industry is being ‘policed’, other players in the value chain are allowed to ‘run wild’.

“It begs the question of what and from whom are regulators protecting the public,” Strand notes. “It’s not operators that are the problem.”

ARCEP, the French telecommunications regulator, was asking similar questions last year, calling Skype out back in March because it hadn’t declared itself as an operator.

The regulators argued that Skype fell into the telco category because it offers itself as a “service that allows internet users located in France to call fixed and mobile numbers in France around the world using their computer or smartphone.”

“If delivering voice, text and data are the domain of operators, then Facebook, Google, Skype, WhatsApp and a myriad [of] others are operators in their own right,” Strand adds.

Roaming has been a huge issue this year. EU digital queen Neelie Kroes has long been banging the drum of a single European market, yet Strand is claiming a win in terms of the death of ‘roam like home’.

The two organisations have not exactly seen eye to eye over the past 12 months, if this tweet from EU spokesman Ryan Heath is anything to go by – yet Strand claims that the roam like home policy was “dead on arrival” because the authors didn’t understand the telecommunications market and the report contained too much ‘armchair economics’.

Strand forecasts that, with European elections coming up this year, politicians will be more interested in saying “a lot that sounds good in the consumers’ ear, but don’t plan on substance that would create regulatory stability.”

Elsewhere, broadband will remain a key factor in 2014, with the analyst firm insisting that appeals for government help need to be resisted, citing the fact that private industry invests more than $300bn (£183.1bn) per year into broadband infrastructure and rollout.

It’s interesting to look back at 2013 and see what was good and bad about Strand’s forecasts. It’s certainly safe to say the battle between OTT and cable companies is still raging strong, as well as the VAS market dropping off, and the prediction that consumers would be the real winners in 2013 was also on target, moving forward into 2014.

Strand predicts big expansion in Africa, describing the continent as “the world’s final frontier for the internet”, and adding: “The internet penetration rate is so low that it has nowhere to go but up. When it comes to broadband, it’s a fait accompli that broadband will be mobile.”

What do you make of these predictions?

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