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'Discriminatory' telecoms rules impacting on competition, innovation and consumers, says mobile industry body

Out-Law News | 12 Feb 2016 | 5:29 pm | 2 min. read

Existing telecoms laws are "discriminatory" and have a negative impact on competition, innovation and consumers, a mobile industry body has said.

Global mobile operators' association the GSMA has published a new report that calls for telecoms rules to be modernised (60-page / 3.21MB PDF). In Europe, the European Commission is already in the process of reviewing EU telecoms rules.

Telecoms companies face competition from new over-the-top communication services but these communication providers are not regulated in the same way as traditional telecoms businesses, GSMA said. John Giusti, GSMA's chief regulatory officer, said that the existing regulatory regime is "discriminatory" and "distorts competition, stifles innovation and hurts consumer welfare".

"Today’s dynamic and competitive markets require more non-discriminatory and technology-agnostic policies," Giusti said. "Reforms are needed to ensure that consumers continue to benefit from innovation and investment, while being protected and regardless of the type of the company or technology providing the service."

"The telecoms regulations in place today are largely the same as those used to regulate the technologies and markets of the last century," he said. "In many cases, changes in technologies and markets have eliminated the need for certain regulations – or at least dictate the need to change the form or application of them. The GSMA urges policymakers to review existing market structures, reform out-dated regulation and ensure a level competitive playing field to protect consumers and enable innovation."

In its report the GSMA said that one example of the "regulatory discrimination" it says exists between traditional telecoms companies and providers of OTT communication services is in relation to the different data privacy rules the companies can be subject to around the world.

GSMA has previously told Out-Law.com of its criticisms of the EU's e-Privacy Directive.

The Directive lays out "specific obligations for telecom providers" in relation to the processing of location data which are "no longer justifiable in the current telecom landscape", GSMA said. It said it supports "a single set of horizontal data protection rules that cover everybody across the internet services ecosystem in the same way".

"Many telcos are active beyond voice and messaging and differences in data protection rules are a relevant issue across the entire market," it said.

A report on the e-Privacy Directive produced for the European Commission last year also identified shortcomings with the current rules on location data processing.

"Location based services that are offered to members of a private network are not governed by the provisions of … the e-Privacy Directive, even though privacy risks may be the same or even greater," it said.

Marc Dautlich, expert in information law at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, recently said the report produced for the Commission is likely to lead the Commission to propose wide-ranging changes to the EU's e-Privacy rules. The Commission has already said it will reform the current rules. Dautlich said the reforms could impact on rules on the use of cookies, direct digital marketing and on the processing of location data.