Published: November 2016Contents
i) What are the hot topics?
Broadband connectivity and wireless services continue to drive law and policy in this sector. The disruptive effect of new technologies and new ways of communicating creates challenges around the world as regulators seek to facilitate the deployment of state-of-the-art communications infrastructure to all citizens and also to use the limited radio spectrum more efficiently than before. At the same time, technological innovation makes it commercially practical to use large segments of higher parts of the radio spectrum for the first time. Moreover, the global nature of TMT companies compels them to address these issues in different ways than before.
ii) Tell us about any key legal developments – recent or pending – and their international impact.
Changes in the TMT ecosystem, including increased opportunities to distribute video content over broadband networks, have led to a policy focus on issues such as ‘network neutrality’ – the goal of providing some type of stability for the provision of the important communications services on which almost everyone relies, while also addressing the opportunities for mischief that can arise when market forces work unchecked. While the stated goals of that policy focus are laudable, the way in which resulting law and regulation are implemented has profound effects on the balance of power in the sector, and also raises important questions about who should bear the burden of expanding broadband networks to accommodate the capacity strains created by content providers and to facilitate their new businesses.
iii) What are the biggest opportunities and challenges for practitioners and clients?
A host of new demands, such as the developing ‘internet of things’, the need for broadband service to aeroplanes, vessels, motor vehicles and trains and the general desire for faster and better mobile broadband service no matter where we go, create pressures on the existing spectrum environment. Regulators are being forced to both (1) ‘refarm’ existing spectrum bands, so that new services and technologies can access spectrum previously set aside for businesses that either never developed or no longer have the same spectrum needs and (2) facilitate spectrum sharing between different services in ways previously not contemplated. Many important issues are being studied as part of the preparation for the next World Radiocommunication Conference to be held in 2019. There is no doubt that this conference will lead to changes in long-standing radio spectrum allocations that have not kept up with advances in technology, and it should also address the flexible ways that new technologies allow many different services to co-exist in the same segment of spectrum.
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP Brussels