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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Regulations for access to the information society

Thematic area: Information technologies
Analytical approach: Monitoring
Topic initiative: Committee on Economics and Technology
Status: completed
Duration: 2009 till 2012

Background and central aspects of the topic

You can watch TV with your mobile phone, make a telephone call with your computer and surf the Internet via the cable TV network. The advancing media convergence confronts legislators and regulators of the media and telecommunications sector with the challenge of keeping pace with new, hybrid offers, new equipment and applications and to monitor developments, promote and adapt regulations adequately (e.g. Youth protection, data protection and consumer protection). The constantly expanding uses and applications of computers and the Internet however raise the question with regard to the legal structures of regulation, to what extent the existing laws, instruments and procedures are still appropriate and can be used without contradiction. In particular, it is unclear to what extent the regulation of content can be separated from the regulation of networks and infrastructures or in which way the different levels in the federal state structure shall be involved.

New convergent devices, networks and services make dealing with new media possible in a way that was not forseen by the legislation of the Telecommunications Act (TKG), the Telemedia Act (TMG), the state broadcasting contract and other laws. In the meantime, however, new business models exploit the subsequent gaps in the laws which have emerged as a result of the new technologies and new combinations. Attempts are being made to close these gaps in regulation through amendments, but various areas are protected against revisions in view of possible adverse economic consequences.

Examples of issues for possible new regulations are:

  • Protection of minors in the Internet and with video-capable mobile phones
  • Radio reception via PCs
  • Emergency call obligation in Internet telephony
  • On-line presence of the public service broadcasting corporations
  • Consumer protection for buying on the Internet
  • Copy right and privacy protection on the Internet

Generally, it is important to note that the listed statutory regulations are not to be seen exclusively in connection with the discussion of barriers to innovation, but point to normative aspects that are fed from other social reference systems and which therefore have their own justification.

In order to identify the barriers and drivers of convergence development and to analyze the specific challenges for regulation and the legal framework, the TAB has been commissioned by the Committee for Education, Research and Technology Assessment of the German Bundestag to conduct a monitoring project entitled »Regulations for Access to the Information Society« (Gesetzliche Regelungen für den Zugang zur Informationsgesellschaft).

Appropriate analyses should clarify to what degree legal requirements, such as those listed above, and the specific constitution of the German regulatory system (separate regulation of the converging areas of telecommunications and media, fragmentation of media regulation/ supervision, competition from federal state, federal government and European powers/ competences, etc.) can be aligned with the latest developments in media convergence, or which specific media policy challenges arise.

Objectives and approach

To process the overall issue a so-called monitoring will be carried out, which does not claim to treat the subject comprehensively, but analyzes selected aspects in depth. This monitoring forms the framework within which the four sub-sections explained in the following will be processed.

Comparison of regulatory approaches

Working step 1 deals with the basic representation and discussion of the main distinguishable regulatory approaches, with respect to the convergence trends, as well as with processing the scientific debate and an international comparison. The discussion about media convergence and a satisfactory response of the regulatory regime has lasted over ten years. In this project step the aim is to elaborate what has been proposed, developed, tested and discarded during this time, what has possibly arisen as a consensus or which ideal-typical competing approaches have emerged.

Barriers to media convergence – The media industry perspective

In the second working step the monitoring report will focus on the actor-specific and legal barriers to media convergence. In particular, the status of legal requirements in developing convergent offers on the part of the media industry is investigated.

The central question is about the drivers of and barriers to the economic benefits of media convergence. It is unclear which regulations actually impede innovative developments, which potential convergence offers are especially affected by missing or inadequate regulations and which offers cannot emerge because the regulations are still arrested/ caught up in the old categories, i.e. current developments have not been sufficiently taken into account. Also possible positive effects of regulation should be presented. However, not only legal barriers should be identified, but also the concrete strategies of corresponding companies will be examined. The thesis could be investigated here whether the demand for reasonable (conservative) legal regulation merely hides a lack of commitment of the actors in the field of innovative technology development.

Synopsis of current problems - The social perspective

In step 3, the current problems associated with the convergence and the further development of the information society will be synoptically reviewed. This working step goes beyond the view of industrial actors and attempts to capture the totality of the relevant convergence phenomena and evaluate them through a standard, comprehensive analytical grid. The following aspects should be considered thereby:

  • Which laws and regulations are affected by the development of convergence? Are the regulations consistent, or do regulatory contradictions exist? How big is the pressure regarding regulatory adaptations?
  • Which federal (federal states/ central government/ EU) competences exist and how do they impact the establishing/ setting of legislative and regulatory frameworks?
  • Do the current laws and regulations restrict innovation, for which reasons and in which regard?
  • How politically significant is the problem? What kind of political topicality and urgency is given?
  • WWill the problematical situation continue to worsen in the future due to technological further developments or through changes in use habits?

Case study

In the fourth working step a case study will be performed on legal regulation requirements, regulation solutions as well as media policy implications in an environment characterized by the digitalization and convergence of telecommunications and broadcasting/ radio. The selection of a topic for a first case study within the monitoring exercise should take place after the results of steps 1 and 2 are presented as well as first indications from working step 3. Possible subjects for such case studies include e.g.: voice-over IP, IPTV, DVB-H, broadcasting in Internet, digital dividend, next-generation network, search machines.

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