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Prospects for the Exclusive Application of “Ex Post” Competition Law to the EU Telecom Sector

Prospects for the Exclusive Application of “Ex Post” Competition Law to the EU Telecom Sector. ITS European Regional Conference Helsinki, August 2003 Flemming Dehn Jespersen Regulatory Director, EMEA MCI. Why is Ex Ante Regulation Required in the Telecom Sector?.

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Prospects for the Exclusive Application of “Ex Post” Competition Law to the EU Telecom Sector

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  1. Prospects for the Exclusive Applicationof “Ex Post” Competition Lawto the EU Telecom Sector ITS European Regional Conference Helsinki, August 2003 Flemming Dehn Jespersen Regulatory Director, EMEA MCI

  2. Why is Ex Ante Regulation Required in the Telecom Sector? • The new EU Framework Directive acknowledges that: “There is a need for ex ante obligations in certain circumstances in order to ensure the development of a competitive market.” (Recital 25) • The OECD takes a similar view:“Available evidence suggests … that regulatory interventions are still necessary. In some markets, the ongoing consolidation reduces the number of competitors, which alleviates competitive pressure. In addition, incumbents still dominate certain services.” (After the Telecommunications Bubble, 06.05.03) • Many EU telecom markets remain uncompetitive due to: • structural problems related to incumbency, dynamics of access and interconnection; • embryonic state of competition (liberalisation began in earnest only 5 years ago). • evolving market developments resulting from economic pressures and technological change. • Without effective ex ante regulation, key telecom markets will not develop effective and sustainable competition.

  3. When is Ex Ante Regulation Necessary? Ex ante regulation is needed when: • Lack of effective competition is due to structural problems that make development of normal market dynamics impossible: • High or insurmountable barriers to entry • Asymmetric cost structures • Control over bottleneck facilities • There is potential for those with market power to implement multiple forms of abuse, usually involving behaviour that is difficult to detect: • Exclusionary abuses (price squeeze, discrimination, raising rivals’ costs, refusal to interconnect, predatory pricing, etc.) • Exploitative abuses (excessive pricing, application of unfair trade conditions, etc.)

  4. Why is Exclusive Ex Post Enforcement Not An Effective Alternative? • Effective “market opening” has not been achieved yet: ex ante regulation has been in effect for less than 5 years and many implementation and enforcement issues remain unaddressed: • In its Recommendation on relevant markets, EC identifies 18 markets (several of which were not specifically regulated under the old framework) that are not effectively competitive. • Market conditions have changed dramatically and are still in flux: • Boom economy that encouraged market entry is now “bust.” • Industry is undergoing major retrenchment: most incumbents have given up on cross-border competition. • Market consolidation is expected.

  5. Why is Exclusive Ex Post Enforcement Not An Effective Alternative? (cont.) • Several aspects of competition law enforcement make “ex post” regulation an unsuitable default regulatory regime for telecoms: • Efficiency • Remedies • Timing • Specialisation & Harmonisation • CAVEAT: When incumbents and mobile operators argue in favour of exclusive competition law enforcement, they are really advocating monopolisation, precisely because of the inherent weaknesses in such a system.

  6. 1. Efficiency Concerns • Exclusive ex post competition law enforcement in the telecom sector is not efficient or effective because: • Competition law is not designed to address structural problems or situations of entrenched market power (removes the effect rather than the cause). • Competition law can only be applied once the abuse has been implemented and, therefore, the anti-competitive objective has been achieved – “the operation was successful but the patient died.” • Decisions under competition law are binding only on parties to the action. Lack of 3rd party/wider effect leads to proliferation of proceedings on narrow issues and uneven application of rules. • Competition law actions generally require an individual complaint: high financial burden for challengers and exposure to commercial retaliation.

  7. 2. Remedies Are Often Unsuitable • Competition remedies are limited in scope – mainly fines, orders to cease the abuse, and structural remedies. • There have been only two excessive pricing cases in the history of EU competition law jurisprudence, and result was “rough justice” at best. • Competition remedies do not produce prompt financial relief forwronged party: fines go to Government and there are no retroactive payments(cf. ex ante remedies, e.g., PPC retrospective payments). Court action is required to claim damages in competition law cases and may be difficult to prove. • Forward-looking remedies (e.g. cost orientation, technical interconnection obligations, QoS standards) are difficult/impossible for non-specialist authorities to devise, monitor and enforce (see United Brands and Guidelines on Merger Remedies).

  8. 2. Remedies Are Often Unsuitable (cont.) • Competition authorities do not have sufficient staff to monitor effective implementation of behavioural remedies. • Competition remedies generally produce effects only among the parties to the proceeding, which can lead to distorted industry impact and confusion in the marketplace. • Competition law is slow to respond to failure to implement remedies, and renewed proceedings are required in case of failure to comply. Also problematic: “loophole” effect. • “Landmark precedent” approach is not well suited to an industry where anticompetitive abuses often involve minute infractions in massive volumes

  9. 3. Timing is Problematic in a Fast-Paced Industry • Competition law requires proof of market power abuses, in addition to dominance. This requirement imposes a higher burden of proof and increases the length of proceedingscompared with exante regulation. • Court backlogs, procedural issues and delaying tactics by the respondent can extend competition law proceedings (e.g., MCI’s F2M complaint and mobile roaming cases -- three years and still running). • Competition law does not generally impose binding deadlines for decision-making on abuse cases; ex ante regulation sets timeframes. • Appeals generally suspend validity of competition law decisions (where appeal is against the imposition/amount of a penalty), whereas under the new Framework, appeals do not generally suspend regulators’ ex ante decisions.

  10. 4. Specialisation and Harmonisation Are Required • Competition authorities oftenlack sectoral expertise, and the issues are usually highly technical. • Growing workload of competition authorities (application of Article 81 of the Treaty, more merger cases and possibly State Aid) will make it even more difficult to focus on telecoms cases. • There is no pan-European harmonisation mechanism in place for general competition law, so no uniform approach to market definition, finding of dominance. By contrast, Article 7 of the Framework directive gives the Commission veto power over NRA draft decisions not in line with EC law.

  11. What is the Appropriate Role of Competition Law in the EU Telecom Sector? • Ex ante and ex post regulation are complementary regulatory tools in the telecoms sector. • Competition law can and should be used to prosecute anticompetitive behaviour that cannot be addressed efficiently or effectively by ex ante regulation. • Competition law should be used in those markets that are not subject to ex ante regulation.

  12. Will Ex Ante Regulation be Rolled Back in the Future? • Substitution of ex ante regulation by competition law enforcement depends on the effective resolution of structural problems currently affecting the sector. • Competition law can only be successfully applied to “normalised” markets that are not predisposed to anticompetitive behaviour and effects. • The only experiment to date with exclusive competition law enforcement in the telecom sector (New Zealand) was a major failure and should be a lesson to us all. • Roll back of ex ante regulation is not simply a matter of time but a question of sustainable dynamic changes in the industry (e.g., future development of real inter-modal access competition). • Competition Authorities will need greater resources and more creative remedial approaches if ex post regulation is to be effective.

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