Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Friday 20/10/2006 One of the intriguing aspects of the mobile-roaming rip-off is the way it has exposed a fundamental flaw in regulation. There is no European telecomms regulator, no Euro-Ofcom.

Friday 20/10/2006

One of the intriguing aspects of the mobile-roaming rip-off is the way it has exposed a fundamental flaw in regulation. There is no European telecomms regulator, no Euro-Ofcom. There are various standards bodies such as ETSI, there are regulators in each state, but there's nobody responsible for the whole lot.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, nobody seems to want one. Commercial concerns are against regulators in general, seeing them as annoying rule makers who always have reasons why something new should not be done for the first time, the existing regulators are jealous of their powers and influence and are no more likely to hand over either without an enormous fight, and the individual users... well, who listens to them?

But that means farragos such as mobile-roaming overcharging get free reign — nobody had responsibility for sorting it out, until a special team was convened. It also means innovations that require new spectrum rules get held back, compared to the speed at which they can advance abroad. In America, the FCC can say "Fiat Wi-Fi" — and lo, it comes to pass. (Actually, it said: "Let a class of services exist within the 2.4 GHz frequency band, and providing they follow some basic rules we don't much care what they are", which is far less biblical but works rather better.) Over here, we and the French and the Spanish and the Germans all get to set individual rules at different times and with different consequences, meaning that while the wireless companies are busy flogging 10 tons of kit in the USA they're still trying to work out what regulatory information to print on the packages over here.

The same's true for ultrawideband. The FCC gave UWB a St Valentine's Day present on 14 February, 2002, by issuing an edict allowing it to operate under fairly relaxed rules. How many European states have done the same thing? Do you want wireless USB at hundreds of megabits a second? The Yanks are getting it (and no, it's not causing any interference). We're not.

But then, who listens to the users? Radio regulation remains one of the last bastions of restraint of trade thinking, and it's hurting. They can get away with it for so long — when was the last time someone down the boozer complained about cross-border microwave allocation rationalisation? — but the seeds of resentment and revolution have been sown.

We gotta fight for our right — to radiate!

 

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