The Technology, Media and Telecommunications Review: Editor's Preface
This volume marks the 12th edition of The Technology, Media and Telecommunications Review, which has been fully updated to provide an overview of evolving legal and policy activity in this arena across 25 jurisdictions around the world. This publication continues to occupy a unique space in the literature on TMT issues. Rather than serving a traditional legal treatise, this Review aims to provide a practical, business-focused survey of these issues, along with insights into how this legal and policy landscape in the TMT arena continues to evolve from year to year.
In 2021, the ongoing covid-19 pandemic continued to loom large over legal and policy developments in this sector. As the threat of infection has continued to affect how we live, work and interact, the importance of connectivity has never been greater or more obvious. For many businesses, remote working has been the rule rather than the exception since March 2020, and may well persist in some form well after the pandemic is over. Many schools switched to distance learning formats during the pandemic. Tele-health is on the rise as doctors check in on patients via videoconference. Even tasks as mundane as grocery shopping have shifted online. And broadband connectivity, where available, has made it all possible.
The experience of covid-19 has, in turn, continued to reshape policymakers' understanding of the TMT arena. The shift to remote working and distance learning has stress-tested broadband networks across the world – providing a 'natural experiment' for determining whether existing policies have yielded robust systems capable of handling substantial increases in internet traffic. At the same time, the pandemic has prompted new initiatives to ensure, improve and expand broadband connectivity for consumers going forward. In various jurisdictions, policymakers are moving forward with subsidy programmes and other efforts to spur the deployment of advanced networks more deeply into unserved and underserved areas. Regulators also have taken steps to preserve internet access where it already exists, including by exploring mandates prohibiting disconnection of customers or requiring certain rates for low-income consumers – measures that, where adopted, sometimes have sparked fresh legal challenges and policy debates over the relative merits of government intervention and market-based solutions.
New technologies likewise have required new approaches and perspectives of policymakers. A notable example is the ongoing deployment of 5G wireless networks, as regulators continue to look for ways to facilitate such deployment. These initiatives take a variety of forms, and frequently include efforts to free up more spectrum resources, including by adopting new rules for sharing spectrum and by reallocating spectrum from one use to another. Multiple jurisdictions have continued to auction off wireless licences in bands newly designated for 5G deployment, capitalising on service providers' strong demand for expanded access for spectrum. The planned deployment of new satellite broadband services, including multiple large satellite constellations in low-earth orbit, also continues to be a focus of regulatory interest across the world.
Meanwhile, long-running policy battles over the delivery of content over broadband networks continue to simmer in various jurisdictions, and new fronts have opened on related issues involving the content moderation policies of social media companies and other online platforms. Policymakers continue to grapple with questions about network neutrality, the principle being that consumers should benefit from an 'open internet' where bits are transmitted in a non-discriminatory manner, without regard for their source, ownership or destination. While the basic principle has been around for well over a decade, unresolved issues remain, including whether newer kinds of network management practices implicate such concerns, and whether efforts to promote a healthy internet ecosystem are best served by light-touch, market-based regimes or by more intrusive government interventions. In the United States, the light-touch approach reinstated in 2018 seems fairly certain to be revisited at the federal level, and certain states are continuing to claim an ability to impose their own restrictions on internet service providers. Regulators around the world have begun taking more aggressive enforcement action against internet service providers' zero-rating plans, which exempt certain data from counting against a customer's usage allowance. Regulators in Asia are grappling with similar policy questions. In addition, these neutrality principles, usually debated in the context of broadband networks, are now spilling over to the content side, where social media companies are facing increased scrutiny over claims of discriminatory practices in moderating content appearing on their platforms. Indeed, some jurisdictions are considering measures that not only would rescind immunities these platforms have traditionally enjoyed for their content moderation practices, but also would require increased transparency and potentially even impose anti-discrimination mandates or other consumer protections. In short, while the balance of power between broadband network operators and online content providers historically has turned on the degree of regulation of the former, both sides' practices are now very much in the spotlight.
The following country-specific chapters describe these and other developments in the TMT arena, including updates on privacy and data security, regulation of traditional video and voice services, and media ownership. On the issue of foreign ownership in particular, communications policymakers have increasingly incorporated national security considerations into their decision-making.
Thanks to all of our contributors for their insightful contributions to this publication. I hope readers will find this 12th edition of The Technology, Media and Telecommunications Review as helpful as I have found this publication each year.
Matthew T Murchison
Latham & Watkins LLP