Tomorrow is coming faster than yesterday came today. Digital transformation (DT) has changed the Work of Nations and improved access to and delivery of services across multiple sectors and markets. This upheaval births conundrums and chances. It demands greater collaboration among policy-makers, regulatory authorities, local government, and chambers of commerce to effectively harness technological progress and to meaningfully address the challenges of digitalization.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the oldest division of the UN with headquarters in Geneva, has branded collaborative regulation as a fundamental change in the way that governments develop regulatory frameworks. For regulatory relevance, consistency, coherence, and traction at the national, regional, and international levels, the ITU highlights the role of collaboration among institutions, industry stakeholders, and cross-sector regulators, (ITU 2020).
Already the labour market is more automated and more digital, and features increased reliance on digital infrastructure that interlaces economies. The new infrastructure is soft. The high probability of new global emergencies and the swelling demand for digital government services compel regulators to focus beyond regulating within conventional sectoral charters to regulatory frameworks that are more fluid, adaptive, collaborative, outcome-based, and technology-neutral. The vectors of collaborative regulation are inclusiveness, agility, and resilience.
Consumer concerns and fairness are central to digital regulation. The foundations of the new regulatory regime range from incremental interventions to frictionless digital experiences that include effective channels for redress and consumer advocacy. Digital regulation becomes a pivot-in-action for the development of business prospects geared towards the digital economy. This policy slant integrates digital technology and AI at the municipal, national, regional, and global levels of trade and industry. Such a policy perspective serves to rouse the economy and create value in high-potential sectors, like the creative industries, while fostering cross-sectoral synergies and digitalization of SMEs.
More important, is the idea that regulation is only needed where there is a public policy justification for regulating a service, whether through an enlargement of existing regulatory provisions or the development of novel ones where nothing existed before. Moreover, in the absence of a public policy rationale, regulators and policymakers should allow unfettered competition to flourish.
Glocalization and the blurring of traditional sectoral boundaries foreshadow the inter-governmental cooperation and collaboration that are integral in ensuring that regulatory frameworks are responsive to emerging regulatory challenges. Public policies have thus shifted focus away from a single sector to the entire economy and the whole of society. Regulators and policy-makers must therefore connect with peers and players across all economic sectors to leverage DT as an engine for sustainable development and achieving the SDGs as outlined by the UN.
Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) or similar binding protocols are useful in formalizing the common ground for collaboration, defining roles, mechanisms, and outcomes of collaboration. These MoUs could address not just domestic collaboration among sectors, but regional and international collaboration to more effectively address cross-border pain points.
Agile Regulatory Frameworks for competition in digital markets can guarantee innovation and consumers’ freedom of choice for global digital market platform services. A new agile regulatory approach driven by real-time monitoring of activity as well as targeted, proportionate, ex-ante, and timely remedies is a fresh frontier. Regulators can support modernization and new business and licensing models that enable affordable access to and investment in market platforms that deliver services across sectors and borders.
These ultramodern regulatory protocols and tools can enhance trust in the digital ecosystem, including a commitment to comply with requirements related to the access to data retained by digital platforms, transparency of essential algorithms, portability of essential data of structuring platforms, interoperability, and the conservation of application programming interfaces (APIs).
Generation one (G1) regulatory frameworks had oversight over public monopolies using command and control protocols. G2 models regulated partial liberalization and privatization across layers using independent regulators. G3 prototypes supported investment, innovation, and competition in service and content delivery, alongside consumer protection. G4 offered integrated regulation with the regulator being a partner in development. Generation Five (G5) or Collaborative Regulation is people-centred. The emphasis is on multisector government regulatory agencies for competition, consumer protection, and data protection. G5 Regulation for 5G, provides mechanisms for collaborative regulation that dissolves sector silos to help achieve the UN SDGs.
These five generations of regulation relate to four intersecting epochs – the Analogue Age around the 1970s when IT, broadcasting, and telecom remained separate spheres. By 2000, they intersected but the Internet remained a Gladwellian outlier. By 2010, data, IT, telecom, internet, and broadcasting crisscrossed. Smart Society by 2030 brings together the shared global use of the radio spectrum, assigning satellite orbits, next-generation networks, and integrated marketplaces for NFTs, “electric-capital”, cryptonetworks, blockchain-centric firms, and an immersive 3D version of the internet or the Metaverse.
The antibodies and the evangelists are now gauging how these shifts are impacting jobs and making the future of work less mindless and repetitive. The Covid accelerant has placed increasing pressure on ICT Regulators, Service Commissions Departments, bureaucracies and policy-makers to design and implement holistic and forward-leaning regulatory approaches that: 1) harness the benefits of connections across multiple sectors of the economy and; 2) leverage DT as a propellant for development as fairness.