European Politics of Regulating Digital Convergence

European Politics of Regulating Digital Convergence

X. Dai
Copyright: © 2007 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-789-8.ch117
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The European politics of digital convergence has been an important topic for public debate since the early 1990s, when the forces of the digital revolution began to clash with the complicated system of regulation established in the “analogue age” regarding the media and communications sector. When the Maastricht Treaty was signed in the early 1990s, the issue of communications infrastructure was incorporated into the law of the European Union (EU) for the first time in the Union’s history. The Maastricht Treaty stipulates that the EU should develop a Trans-European Network of Telecommunications (TEN-Telecom), which supports network inter-connectivity and service inter-operability (Dai, 2000). The Delors White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness, and Employment envisions the downing of a multimedia age and calls for the creation of a “common information area” (European Commission, 1993). Shortly after the publication of the Delors White Paper, the Bangemann Report delivered a strong message to the European Council in Corfu that the EU’s regulatory framework would have to be reformed in order to take on the challenges brought by new information and communications technologies (ICTs), which are generating a new industrial revolution (Bangemann et al., 1994). The release of the Delors White Paper and the Bangemann Report heralded the creation of a new policy area—the European Information Society, in which EU institutions, in particular the European Commission, have been playing a significant role up until now. Meanwhile, although the issue of regulatory challenges posed by the multimedia revolution or digital convergence was highlighted in the early 1990s by the European Commission, there was surely a lack of detailed proposal for reforming the EU’s regulatory structure for ICTs. European Regulatory reform in the information and communications technology sector gained further momentum during the second half of the 1990s. In December 1997, the European Commission published its Green Paper on convergence, which argues that “getting the regulatory framework right is of crucial importance” (European Commission, 1997, p. iv). To assist public debate, this Green Paper identifies a range of options and poses specific questions with regard to the implications of digital convergence for regulatory reform in Europe. In the 1999 Communications Review, the European Commission provides a systematic analysis about the status quo of regulation on the information and communications technology and suggests a comprehensive plan for the overhaul of regulatory structure. The early years of the 21st century witnessed the official launch by the European Union of a New Regulatory Framework, drawing an end to the old regulatory structure belonging to the “analogue age.” The New Regulatory Framework provides a fundamentally different package of regulation over the information and communications technology sector with a focus on the challenges posed by digital convergence. The purpose of this article is to analyse the implications of digital convergence for regulatory and institutional changes in the European Union. Accordingly, it is the European policy and political responses to the regulatory issues raised by digital convergence that constitute the main focus for the discussions presented in this article. It is argued that, whilst major progresses have been achieved at the EU level since the 1990s in regulatory reform, there are still critical issues remaining to be resolved in relation to the regulation of digital convergence. More specifically, despite that the EU has now managed to move away from technology-specific regulation to technology-neutral regulation, the failure to establish a single European Regulatory Authority (ERA) will continue to create institutional barriers to achieving more effective and efficient regulation over digital convergence.

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