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Convergence

Updates

12 Jan 2017

In its recently published report on Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions, Deloitte predicts that over 300 million smartphones will have on-board neural network machine learning capability in 2017, allowing devices to perform machine learning tasks even when offline. This will enhance applications such as indoor navigation, augmented reality, speech recognition, and language translation. Such capabilities are also likely to be found in tens of millions drones, tablets, cars, virtual or augmented reality devices, medical tools, etc. Deloitte also expects that DDoS attacks, including those involving compromised IoT devices, will be more intense and frequent in 2017. The company, however, notes that embedded machine learning capabilities have the potential to protect devices (though, for example, detecting malware or suspicious or anomalous behavior) and ‘might help turn the tide against the growing wave of cyber-attacks’.

12 Jan 2017

The Committee on Legal Affairs in the European Parliament adopted a report outlining recommendations for the introduction of ‘civil law rules on robotics’. The report proposes, among others, the elaboration and adoption of an EU ‘legislative instrument’ to tackle legal questions related to the development of robotics and artificial intelligence, such as: intellectual property rights and the flow of data, registration of smart robots, liability to damage caused by robots, interoperability and access to source code, and disclosure of use of robots and artificial intelligence by undertakings. The report also discusses the possibility of introducing ‘corporate reporting requirements on the extent and proportion of the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions’. In addition, a code of ethical conduct in the fields of robotics is also proposed. The document, presented by the Committee in May 2015 is expected to be discussed by the EP in a plenary session in mid February.

11 Jan 2017

The US Department of Transportation announced the creation of an advisory committee focused on automation. The committee will work on ‘some of the most pressing and relevant matters facing transportation today, including the development and deployment of automated vehicles’, with a view to determining the needs of the Department as it continues with its relevant research, policy, and regulations in the area. Members of the committee include representatives of companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Uber, as well as academics from universities such as Stanford, Duke, and Berkeley.

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Historically, telecommunication, broadcasting, and other related areas were separate industry segments; they used different technologies and were governed by different regulations. The broad and prevailing use of the Internet has aided in the convergence of technological platforms for telecommunication, broadcasting, and information delivery. Today, we can make telephone calls, watch TV, and share music on our computers via the Internet. Only a few years ago it was handled by different technological systems.

In the field of traditional telecommunication, the main point of convergence is VoIP. The growing popularity of VoIP systems such as Skype is based on lower price, the possibility of integrating data and voice communication lines, and the use of advanced PC- and mobile-devices-based tools. With YouTube and similar services, the Internet is also converging with traditional multimedia and entertainment services. While technical convergence is going ahead at a rapid pace, its economic and legal consequences will require some time to evolve.

 

At international level, governance mechanisms are mainly used for the exchange of best practices and experiences. The International Telecommunication Union's development sector (ITU-D) has a study group on the converging environment. The Council of Europe has a steering committee on media and information, covering one aspect of convergence: the interplay between traditional and new digital media. Convergence is most directly related to net neutrality, the IoT, the role of intermediaries, e-commerce, consumer protection, and taxation.

The economic implications of convergence

At the economic level, convergence has started to reshape traditional markets by putting companies that previously operated in separate domains, into direct competition. Companies use different strategies. The most frequent approach is merger and acquisition. As a consequence, convergence has lead to fears of the ‘Uber syndrome’ among business leaders: the scenario in which a competitor with a completely different business model enters the industry and flattens competition. Such was the case when Uber entered the taxi market by innovating on the technological aspect; as a consequence, traditional taxi companies and drivers, who businesses were threatened, filed lawsuits in courts across the world in protest against the new unregulated entrant in the market.

The need for a legal framework

The legal system was the slowest to adjust to the changes caused by technological and economic convergence. Each segment – telecommunication, broadcasting, and information delivery – has its own special regulatory framework. This convergence opens up several governance and regulatory questions:

  • What is going to happen to the existing national and international regimes in such fields as telephony and broadcasting?
  • Will new regimes be developed that focus mainly on the Internet?
  • Should the regulation of convergence be carried out by public authorities (states and international organisations) or through self-regulation?

Some countries, like Malaysia and Switzerland, as well as the EU, have started providing answers to these questions. Malaysia adopted the Communications and Multimedia Act in 1998, establishing a general framework for the regulation of convergence. The EU’s regulatory framework for electronic communications, transposed into national laws, is also a step in this direction, as are the Swiss telecommunication laws and regulations.

The risk of convergence: the merger of cable operators and ISPs

In many countries, broadband Internet has been introduced via cable networks. This is especially true in the USA, where cable Internet is much more prevalent than ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line), the other main Internet broadband option. What are the risks associated with this convergence?

Some parties argue that the cable operators’ buffering between users and the Internet could challenge the net neutrality principle.

The main difference between ADSL and cable is that cable is not regulated by so-called common carrier rules which apply to the telephony system and specify that access should be non-discriminatory. Cable operators are not subject to these rules, giving them complete control over their subscribers’ Internet access. They can block the use of certain applications and control the access to certain materials.

Surveillance possibilities and consequently the ability to violate privacy are much greater with the cable Internet since access is controlled through a system similar to local area networks (LANs), which provides a high level of direct control of users.

This convergence problem may be addressed by deciding if the cable Internet is an ‘information service’ or a ‘telecommunication service’. If it is the latter, it will have to be regulated through common carrier rules.

Events

Instruments

Standards

Recommendation ITU-T Y.2001 - 'General overview of NGN' (2004)
ETSI standards dealing with convergence issues (2016)

Other Instruments

Resources

Articles

How the Sharing Economy can Make its Case (2015)
Universities Have a Choice - Partner with Industry, or Watch their Best Minds Disappear (2015)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Reports

Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2017 (2017)
A New Regulatory Framework for the Digital Ecosystem (2016)
Outthinking Disruption in Communications (2016)
Report on OTT Services (2016)
Connectivity: Broadband Market Developments in the EU (2016)
Over-the-Top Players (OTTs) (2015)
Redefining Boundaries - The Global C-suite Study (2015)
Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2015 - Getting Ready for the Digital Economy (2015)
OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015 (2015)
Wired up: The convergence of Technology, Media and Entertainment (2015)
Regulation and Consumer Protection in a Converging Environment (2013)

Other resources

Exploring Digital Convergence: Issues for Policy and Legislation (2015)

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