And you call yourself technology-neutral! Technology agnosticism, telecommunications, and the powers that be

Deshpande, Advait (2015). And you call yourself technology-neutral! Technology agnosticism, telecommunications, and the powers that be. In: The British Society for the History of Science (BSHS) Annual Conference 2015, 2-5 Jul 2015, Swansea, UK.

Abstract

With their "Let the market pick the winners" approach, the UK regulators for telecommunications industry (Oftel, Cable Authority, Radiocommunications Agency, and now Ofcom) have consistently taken a technology-neutral approach to governing the markets. Combined with the aim of encouraging introduction of next-generation technologies for the benefit of the end-users, technology-agnosticism has remained a key plank of the UK regulatory policy. The aim of this paper is to understand how the approach to remain technology-neutral on part of the policy-makers has shaped the telecommunications industry in the UK from the 1980s.

The paper discusses the challenges of effectively remaining technology-neutral in practice and balancing it with an interest in accelerating the introduction of new technologies. The paper examines how the policy of technology-neutrality influenced the decisions made by operators such as BT, Mercury (Cable & Wireless), the cable operators, and the wireless/mobile operators. Whether the intent to remain technology-neutral truly aligned with the goals of ensuring a thriving competitive market and the extent to which it served the interests of the end-users is also discussed.

The paper argues that a technology-neutral approach for regulatory oversight needs to be constantly adapted in order to foster market-led innovation. The paper shows how a number of factors whether disruptive innovation, the emergence of unforeseen technology trends, and the unpredictability of how the markets function influence the choices about technology, and in turn the intent to remain technology-agnostic on part of the powers that be.

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