Aug. 1, 2016
Cass R. Sunstein is a prominent Law & Economics teacher (first at the University of Chicago, then at Harvard). Not only has he written reference handbooks on Regulation, he was also the one who inspired the Regulation policies of Obama. In his 2013 book Simpler, he expresses his stance: to be better, public policies need to be simpler.
In this essay, Sunstein explores how behavorial economics might lead to improve public decision-making processes. He bases its stances upon his experience as the Administrator, from 2009 to 2012, of the US Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs; that is why anyone who cares about Regulation should read it and ask themselves if simplicity, as the author states, may or may not be an actual leading principle for an effective government.
The OIRA, under the supervision of the Office of Management and Budget placed within the Executive Office, reviews the draft Regulations that are prepared by the cabinets of various rulemaking agencies. In this view, the OIRA can be regarded as a sort of custodian of the quality of Regulation throughout the US; conversely to the mainly consultative functions granted to the Conseil d'Etat in France, the OIRA's opinions are binding. Hence, a draft project shall not be issued nor be enforced without its prior consent. Part of OIRA's defining mission is also to centralize all the information held by diverse people within the executive branch, as to enable its access and circulation between all the rulemaking agencies responsible for elaborating and producing binding regulations.
Simpler is dedicated to the detailed study of the main decisions taken under Sunstein's decisive influence by the OIRA in the Regulation field during Obama's first mandate (2009-2012). Before taking up government functions, Sunstein focused part of his academic work on the interactions that are the most likely to occur between behavioral economics, law and public policy. To him, "a general lesson is that small, inexpensive policy initiatives, informed by behavioral economics, can have big benefits" (p. 41). He namely provides that "without a massive reduction in its current functions, government can be far more effective, far less confusing, far less counterproductive, and far more helpful if it opts, wherever it can, for greater simplicity" (p. 11).
This reference to 'simplicity', from which the name of Sunstein's essay stems, aims at translating all the efforts done by public authorities, under the supervision of the OIRA, to issue rules that were clearer and more accessible than before and that provided their subjects (whether they are citizens, companies, or federal administrations) a greater freedom in the choices they were able to make.
Throughout his book and with a little help from the various situations he had to face during his term at the OIRA, Sunstein shows that there is a virtuous relationship between a better information of the agents (whether they are the authors or the subjects of the norms at stake), a greater simplicity in public decision-making process and a better quality of the regulations meilleure qualité de la réglementation in force in a State. This paper hence aims to sum up the main points of the essay (I.), before making a few comments about it (II.).
July 23, 2016
On 20 July 2016, the Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel (CSA- French "Independant Authority to Protect Audiovisual Communications Freedom") issued a press release in which it directly addresses to its Turkish counterpart.
The press release is short. Here is what it says: "Le Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel exprime sa vive inquiétude à la suite de la décision du Conseil suprême de la radio et de la télévision (RTÜK), le régulateur des médias en Turquie, de retirer leurs droits d'émission à de nombreuses radios et télévisions. Le Conseil appelle son partenaire de longue date au sein de la Plateforme européenne des instances de régulation (EPRA) et du Réseau des institutions de régulation méditerranéennes (RIRM) à ne pas mettre en cause la liberté de communication et le pluralisme des médias, garanties fondamentales d'une société démocratique." (courtesy translation: "The Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisual expresses its deep concerns following the decision of the Supreme Council for Radio and Television (RTÜK), the Turkish Media Regulator, to withdraw the broadcasting rights of numerous radios and televisions. The Conseil calls upon its long-time partner within the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA) and the Mediterranean Regulation Authorities Network (RIRM) not to jeopardize the freedom of communication and media pluralism, which are fundamental guarantees in a democratic society").
The press release is entitled "Le CSA s'inquiète du retrait par le régulateur turc des droits d'émission de radios et de télévision" (courtesy translation: "The CSA worries about the decision of the Turkish Regulator to withdraw broadcasting rights to radios and televisions").
Isn't this surprising?
One would understand that the members of a Regulatory Authority, just as many people, would worry about what has been happening lately in Turkey. One can also share the view that these events might cause them to fear for the sake of public liberties and democracy in the country.
Should a Regulatory Authority express its "worry" though?
Shouldn't it be the Government's role instead, within the framework of its 'diplomatic relations' with the state and with the use of an appropriate vocabulary, to express any 'worry'?
First of all, this is a salient example of the ambiguity of the Audiovisual Regulator. Indeed, while it itself insists on the fact that it acts as an economic regulator of a sector whose development and innovation falls under its watch and monitoring (which namely justifies the fact that he reviews candidacies to the presidency of public televisions channels), the Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel had initially been created to preserve public liberties.
As such, people who still embrace the distinction that was previously assumed between public liberties regulation and economic regulation still consider the CSA - along with the CNIL - as the prototype of the former type of regulatory body.
Here the CSA expresses its "deep concern" and sends a request not to "jeopardize liberties", which is the polite version of an injunction, to a foreign regulatory authority upon which it has no authority whatsoever.
One can understand that the Regulator develops soft law about operators on which he has actual authority. But what about here? Shouldn't the adage Nemo plus juris apply?
How is the Regulator competent to issue 'releases' in which he formulates desiderata towards a foreign body whose behavior is unappealing to him? Shouldn't the Quai d'Orsay (French Ministry for Foreign Affairs) be in charge?
The Regulator took a political stance here, while it is known that a Regulatory Authority can only be legitimate when it stands as a technical authority; emphasizing on the political features of its job actually jeopardizes this legitimacy, all the more when international politics are involved (which is the case here).
However, the Regulator does preempt criticism in its press release:
It starts indeed by stating that it only expresses this sort of 'feeling' because of the old ties that exists between the French and the Turkish Regulators: it essentially considers that friends can be true to one another, express a few criticism and expect changes. Friendship in the digital media and in politics would allow for many things.
Besides, the CSA recalls the solidarity that prevails between the two regulators. Because they are "long-time partner within the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA) and the Mediterranean Regulation Authorities Network (RIRM)", the French Regulator is enabled to express the Turkish Regulators its view on how it is jeopardizing democracy and how it should consequently stop.
Maybe the many ties that exists between the Regulators now enable them to give more or less stringent advice to one another, whereas diplomatic embassies now play an increasing economic role: how blur do the lines get!
July 15, 2016
In Senegal, the Autorité de régulation des télécommunications et des postes (ARTP ; English translation: Telecommunications and Posts Regulatory Authority) has, just like all regulators, inherent powers to impose sanctions. In general, the important thing is not only to exercise this sanctioning power but to exercise it in a way that reinforces the authority of the Regulator. In this perspective, the new Sonatel sanction decision is important.
As a sanctions always carry a heavier weight when people are made aware of it, the Director General of the Artp issued a press release, that has been flagged as particularly important, and held a press conference (in French) on a particularly serious sanction imposed following what the Regulator considers as the non-fulfilment of obligations stemming from formal notices (which, by the way, the telecom operator challenges on the merits).
On 21 November 2014 indeed, the Sonatel was given a formal notice from the Artp to respect consumer rights. As the code of telecommunications provides since its modification in 2014, operators shall "prendre les mesures appropriées de dimensionnement de leurs réseaux de nature à garantir à leurs clients un accès ininterrompu à leur service client commercial ou technique en respectant un taux d’efficacité minimal" (translation: "take appropriate measures to size their networks in a way that provides their consumers with an uninterrupted access to their customer service (sales service and technical support) which would respect a minimum efficiency rate") set by the Regulator itself- as to, namely, ensure that the right of consumers to be informed is satisfied (as regards billing mechanisms) and that their calls to consumer services remain free of charge. As the Regulator estimated that the Sonatel was not complying with such regulations, it conducted a formal investigation and notified a statement of objections to the operator, before sending on 28 January 2015 a second formal notice for the same reasons.
On 14 July 2016, the Regulator imposed a sanction on Sonatel since the it still estimated that the operator's behavior still was not leading to a compliant situation as regards the consumer right to be informed. The sanction, as stated in the Sonatel decision, is 13 billion 959 million FCfa (c. €20m), i.e., 15% of Sonatel's 2015 turnover. The sanction decision also provides that if the operator does not enforce it, an additional penalty of 10m FCfa (c. €15,000) per day will be charged.
The operator, however, challenges this sanction insofar as it estimates that its behavior is not to be blamed. To support its claim, Sonatel avails itself from the fact that upon reception of the first formal notice, it undertook a 'progressive compliance' with the requirements process as regards its network, then let the Regulator know about it, etc. It is henceforth to lodge an appeal.
The issue at stake, therefore, is to know whether the obligations on operators are obligations regarding the means used (that is to say, means obligations), or, conversely, if they are obligations to produce results (performance obligations). If they are means obligations, then the operator is right. However, considering the efficiency and effectivity principes that are closely linked with the teleological nature of Regulation, it is more likely that such obligations are performance obligations.
For instance, in France, the Commission Informatiques et Libertés (French Data Protection Authority- CNIL) considered on 1 March 2016!footnote-42 that the obligations on operators to have accurate and complete data are performance obligations and not mere means obligations.
Thus, there is probably more to follow with this Sonatel decision. The day the press release was issued, the operator stated it intended to lodge a hierarchical appeal before the Minister.
The next day, the Director General of the Artp stated in the press (in French) that under the Senegal law, the appeal could only be lodged before a jurisdiction, or before... the Regulatory Authority itself (request for reconsideration - in French : "recours gracieux").
This situation is thus a great reminder that new illustrations of the interplays between Regulation and Politics can always be found.
July 6, 2016
The British want to be first in the upcoming digital economy.
That is why a draft 'Digital Economy' bill has been introduced.
July 4, 2016
On 30 June 2016, Sébastien Soriano, President of the French Telecommunications Authority (Autorité de Régulation des Communications Electroniques et des Postes - ARCEP) gave an interview to the French magazine L’Usine digitale (in French).
Speaking to the press is a way for the Regulator to reach everyone, including policymakers, European institutions, and fellow Regulators who also seek to compete for space in the digital area.
As he reported: "Nous arrivons aujourd’hui, avec l'irruption du numérique, à un acte 2 de la régulation. Il y a 20 ans, on est passé du modèle PTT où l’Etat produisait le service public, au modèle d’État-régulateur qui a permis l’ouverture à la concurrence. Ce modèle vise à une bonne organisation du marché avec des outils de pilotage efficaces, mais parfois très intrusifs : les licences mobiles, qui sont des contrats assortis de sanctions administratives en cas de non-respect des obligations, ou le dégroupage, qui est une intervention sur la propriété privée… Aujourd’hui il nous faut franchir une étape nouvelle et nous projeter dans la suite, repenser nos outils pour permettre, en complément, une régulation plus focalisée, plus humble et plus agile". We can translate this passage as it follows : “As of today, considering the onset of digital, we are getting to a second phase for Regulation. Over the past 20 years, we went from the ‘PTT model’, where the State provided for public service, to a new Regulatory State model that enabled competition to thrive. This model aims for good market organization with effective management tools, which may be sometimes very intrusive: e.g., mobile licenses, which are agreements that include administrative penalties in the event of failure to comply with its provisions, or unbundled access, which relates to a State intervention on private ownership… Today, we need to take it another step further and plan for the future, reconsider our tools to allow for a Regulation that would be better focused, humbler and nimbler”.
Whatever “Phase 1” was would thus be already outpaced. Farewell stringent public service, so long market openings to competition. Such an understanding of Regulation was certainly consistent with the idea that Regulation was only meant to be temporary, namely considering the everlasting protection of personal data by the dedicated supervisory authority (Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertés, CNIL)…
We would then need to implement “Phase 2” and, as Sébastien Soriano advises, to “Regulate by the multitude”, which is "a concept that includes consumers, but also users, observers, and the civil society as a whole. The key question is how to use the power of information to get the greatest possible leverage on the market while relying on the multitude. The answer is clear: Regulation by data" ("La multitude, ce sont les utilisateurs, les observateurs, la société civile. Cela inclut les consommateurs, mais pas uniquement. Et la question centrale, c’est comment utiliser le pouvoir de l’information pour avoir un maximum d'effet de levier sur le marché et grâce à la multitude. La réponse, c’est la régulation par la data.").
Like all the others, the Telecom Regulator introduces himself as a sort of ‘natural’ Regulator for digital activities, as he relies on the key notion that is information. In doing so, he is seeking allies that are just as natural as he is— that is to say, consumers. Consumers fall indeed into the scope of the Regulator insofar as they provide him with the information he needs to Regulate the digital sector and space.
The Regulator thus does not define himself anymore as the one that protects consumers against the market, but as the one that binds the two together, transforming the complaint into a civic act: “There’s a problem. As a consumer, I am alerting you as a Regulator who has the means to regulate market failures and whom I shall let operate”.
In such a statement, the ARCEP not only becomes the ‘natural’ digital Regulator, but it also become the one that operates on the grounds of information brought by the web-user, who is protected by and who somehow benefits in return from the action of the Regulator.
Two concluding thoughts:
June 24, 2016
The Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF- French Prudential Supervision Authority) set up a Scientific Advisory Board under the supervision of its president Gérard Rameix, who is also president of the AMF.
The Scientific Advisory Board chose ‘Financial education in the digital era’ as the theme of its annual conference, which was held on 20 June 2016 in partnership with Paris School of Economics.
The conference was opened by François Villeroy de Galhau, Governor of the Banque de France (France’s central bank). He stated that financial literacy “shall help everyone make informed decisions”. In this regard, financial literacy is a “factor for economic efficiency and social fairness”, which justifies involvement from public authorities- including, namely, the Banque de France. In partnership with both the Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution (ACPR- French Prudential Supervision Authority) and the AMF, the Banque de France ought to be a “caring educator, but an attentive regulator”, as it is “imperative that financial literacy and Regulation should be taken forward jointly, as to allow for new technologies to develop, which would be understood by all and for the benefit of all”.
Three roundtables followed. The first roundtable aimed at assessing financial literacy trends and their impact on the financial behaviour of consumers and investors in Europe. The second session focused on the opportunities opened up by new technologies (upon which Fintechs, e.g., crowdfunding platforms, data aggregators and automated financial advice services are thriving) as regards financial behaviours. Lastly, the third panel discussion, which involved several French (AMF, Institut National de la Consommation- INC, French National Institute for Consumer Affairs) and European (European Commission) Regulators, draw conclusions from the first two roundtables and discussed on the issues that an increasingly digitalised financial education raises for Regulatory authorities.
Since this conference raises many crucial questions for Regulation, it is important to recall what has been said in the panel discussion on the role of Regulator with regards to financial education (I.) before sharing some thoughts on this matter of particular interest (II.).
June 22, 2016
It is sometimes argued that the competitive freedom will destroy the "old regulated world", platforms being the perfect example of this fresh wind, the invention of the adjective "disruptive" which could express a "novelty" before which it is only suitable to bow.
It would be therefore necessary to smile or even laugh, what would be a "rearguard battle" when the Conseil Constitutionnel (French Constitutional Council) in a decision of 22 May 2014 had limited the expansion of Uber, protecting the correspondingly monopoly holders of a municipal taxi license.
But in the US, cities adopt regulations. So on the next city council of the city of Chicago, will be proposed the vote of an order to compel the rideshare drivers.
In 2014, the French Constitutional Council justified its decision by referring to "the public order of parking", which the municipality is mistress... The justification given here is to protect the occupant.
Indeed all rideshare drivers will be obliged provide proof that they are subject to health checks, especially on drugs and provide criminel check also.
This is justified because Regulation of an activity implies control of those who exercise it and equal competitors can justify that for the same activity some are removed, especialy in view of the protection of the person transported.
The third new requirement is of a different nature: the driver must prove that it is not in debt to the municipality. Why not, since the infrastructure of the city allows them to exercise the economic activity in question. This is another underlying objective, which lies rather in the idea of an exchange between the city and the one who transports people, the beneficiary of infrastructure should not be otherwise debtor that it enjoys public infrastructure.
The latter provision shows that the "contract" is increasingly not between the carrier and transported - via the virtual platform - but between the very concrete public space and one that circulates and do not live there.
June 21, 2016