OPINIONS

Dante had a point

In recent times, I have had the opportunity to study the developments of radio frequency assignment policies on a number of markets. Some European, some outside Europe, some in highly developed countries, some in less developed countries. I have collected below some of the mental notes I have made on the subject.

Differences in regulatory attitudes in the legislations are significant. Some regimes aim to squeeze the most money out of the operators in the short term, no matter what. Some encourage extremely thorough analysis which makes it difficult to make any decisions even though clearly the market would be better off with any decision than without. And some, my favourite kind, encourage working side by side with the operators to make sure frequencies are in optimal use and the operators have reasonable chances to run their business. In this case, often only minimal amount of money – if any – changes hands.

A country might be in need of cash to take care of the governmental expenses, including welfare and public investments, and see high fees for radio frequencies as a lucrative option. But of course the operators aim for a profitable business, and all costs will find their way
into their pricing. In other words, the money collected for the advancement of the well-being of the average citizen will come from the pocket of that same citizen. On top of this, there is of course the overhead of collecting and distributing the money, as well as the potential appeal processes. Chances are that the system would prove counter-productive if analysed.

Where the regulators are entitled to work with the operators, especially in the Nordics, reasonable results seem to be reached. When operators can contribute to the result of e.g. re-assignment of the frequencies, they also commit to the decisions. This minimizes the
regulatory processes and reduces the resources needed for (mostly futile) appeal processes. It undoubtedly also contributes to lower prices.

In my mind the worst regulator is the type that avoids making mistakes by avoiding decision-making. I believe it was Dante who described the uncommitted as unworthy even to enter hell, let alone heaven. Not much to add to that.

Why the different attitudes in the regimes? There are various explanations, but my bet goes to personal gain: the politician passing the legislation that collects the biggest chunk of money for the state gains the respect and admiration of the colleagues, perhaps in some cases even of the domestic press. This can be very addictive and not available to many. Chances for such personal gain are reduced in regimes where regulators work together with the operators to reach a decision based on consensus. These people must have other drivers. And the non-decision-making guys? Their driver is to stay safe by not rocking the boat.

Dear policy-makers: what are your drivers?