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Digital platforms and gatekeepers

Many services developed in recent years are based on Internet technologies. Of these web based services, many offer the same or similar functionalities as services previously provided by telecommunications operators and are called Over-The-Top (OTT) services. OTT services do not use the network layer, instead operating on the application layer. An excellent example of OTT communications services are instant messaging services. Similar to the traditional SMS or phone call, instant messengers allow users to contact others who have installed the instant messenging service; yet unlike SMS or phone calls, these services only require an Internet connection and do not necessarily require a SIM card to transmit communications. OTT services are often organised as platforms or form a part of large digital ecosystems. Essential services such as browsers, search engines, app stores, operating systems and communications platforms often obtain a gatekeeper position, e.g. in relation to users or third-party providers, and provided they command the necessary market power, they are able to restrict access to the open Internet and its innovation ecosystem. The proposed Digital Markets Act (DMA), which will be adopted soon, also refers to these services as core platform services

TKK, RTR.Telecom.Post and other national regulatory authorities are tasked with ensuring sustainable competition between electronic communications services. In order to fulfil this task, a continuous monitoring of markets for electronic communications services is essential to determine whether and which regulatory intervention is necessary. The European Electronic Communications Code (EECC)and theAustrian Telecommunications Act 2021, aims to promote the interoperability of these services and the development and use of very high capacity networks as well as the provision of innovative and affordable services through variety of services and competition. OTTs and platforms have considerable influence on markets for electronic communications services. For example, in the case of number-independent communications services (such as most instant messengers), the regulatory authority may stipulate interoperability under certain conditions in consultation with the European Commission and other authorities (as is the case with voice telephony services). The DMA will likely entail interoperability obligations on number-independent interpersonal communication services of gatekeepers in basic features. TKK and RTR.Telekom.Post are furthermore entrusted with the implementation of the net neutrality rules in Austria and safeguard the function of the Internet as a driver of innovation by overseeing the commercial and technical conditions (design) of the networks. Finally, our activities in BEREC and other international bodies form an important part of our work on platforms and gatekeepers. 

Overview

Monitoring of digital platforms and gatekeepers
Studies and projects by RTR
Publications and studies by other institutions
Consultations

Monitoring of digital platforms and gatekeepers

Large digital conglomerates are actively shaping the digital space and their digital platforms and ecosystems have a significant and still increasing economic importance, also triggering a multitude of digital innovations. In the first half of 2020, RTR.Telekom.Post introduced a project to monitor communications services and digital gatekeepers in the internet value chain. The monitoring is focused on platforms and ecosystems, in particular their market power and their behaviour on the market, which may consist of measures to support tipping and suppress competitive pressure from third parties in and for the market. In addition to RTR.Telekom.Post, this methodological document for monitoring digital platforms aims to inform other institutions about essential matters relating to and competitive aspects of platforms. As such, it is also part of the intensified cooperation with the Austrian Competition Authority (BWB) on digital issues agreed upon in the autumn of 2019. The German version of the methodological document on monitoring was updated in 2022 with findings from its application. The legal regulations in the Cartel Act and in the political agreement on the European DMA were taken into account.

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Studies and projects by RTR

In a study published in summer 2019 by RTR.Telekom.Post, we analysed the importance of operating systems and app stores for the open Internet. On the one hand, this study is based on an empirical survey of competition issues for and approaches of consumers, such as the factors that are relevant for switching services or how important interoperability is to them. On the other hand, interviews were conducted with app developers about possible restrictions on app stores.

With the methodological document, first published in spring 2020, we present an approach for measuring and assessing the market power of digital platforms and ecosystems. This approach aims to provide a structured methodology for describing relevant competitive dimensions and a basis for future competition analyses, in turn facilitating a preliminary assessment with regard to essential aspects and possible adverse economic effects. This methodological document was revised at the beginning of 2022 with findings from the application. The legal regulations in the Cartel Act and in the political agreement on the European Digital Markets Act (DMA) were taken into account. 

Our approach does not represent a final assessment according to competition law. RTR.Telekom.Post as well as other relevant decision-making bodies and institutions (e.g. in the fields of data protection, administration, etc.) should be able to use this information as a preliminary system for their tasks and considerations.

We applied this methodological approach to analyse interpersonal communications services (in particular instant messengers) in Austria in a study. Our study drew on empirical data on the usage of these services in Austria and describes their embedding into larger digital ecosystems. On this basis, we developed an initial competition assessment of instant messaging services. 

Single sign on services like "log-in with apple" are offered often by digital gatekeerps such as providers of operating sytems or app stores. They are a important part of the open internet. In our study, we analysed the importance of such services and how legal and technical restrictions might change them.

The methodological document already identified switching barriers as one aspect in the assessment of market power of digital platforms and ecosystems. In the report published in 2022 on switching barriers for key Internet services, these were examined in more detail for messengers, browsers, search engines and - for comparison - for cell phone tariff providers. A representative survey was used to determine the selection criteria for deciding on a service, switching behavior, reasons for and against switching, and barriers to switching to an alternative provider.

Documents

Switching barriers for key Internet services

The report on barriers to switching key Internet services uses a survey of Austrian users to examine switching behavior with regard to mobile phone tariff providers, as well as messengers, browsers and search engines on mobile phones. A representative survey was conducted to determine the most important selection criteria for choosing a service, reasons for and against switching, and barriers to switching to an alternative provider.

Switching barriers for key Internet services


Single sign on services: Overview and recent developments

In the study Single sign on services: Overview and recent developments, RTR.Telecom.Post examines the markets on which single-sign-on services operate in Austria and Europe, as well as legal and technical changes that might affect them in the future.

Single sign on services: Overview and recent developments


Monitoring of interpersonal communication services with a focus on Instant Messaging

In the study Monitoring of interpersonal communication services with a focus on Instant Messaging, RTR.Telecom.Post examines the usage of these services in Austria based on empirical data and offers an initial competition assessment. This study was written in cooperation with the Federal Competition Authority and is available in German. 

Monitoring of interpersonal communication services with a focus on Instant Messaging
Monitoring of digital communications platforms and gatekeepers of the open Internet

The methodological document Monitoring of digital communications platforms and gatekeepers of the open Internet - written in cooperation with the Federal Competition Authority - provides a basis for enquiries and evaluations of competition issues related to communications platforms. The Executive Summary is available in English. 

Monitoring of digital communications platforms and gatekeepers of the open Internet
The Open Internet: OS, Apps and App Stores

In the course of the study The Open Internet: OS, Apps and App Stores, RTR.Telekom.Post took an in-depth look at competition issues in connection with these digital ecosystems based on a representative survey of the use of mobile digital services and interviews with app developers. The Executive Summary is available in English.

The Open Internet: OS, Apps and App Stores


Questions and answers

In order to provide better insight into our methodological work, we have explained some of the terms that are most relevant for our work in this overview. 

Questions and answers


We welcome your feedback on the approaches we have developed and our planned projects at: rtr@rtr.at

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Publications and studies

 Regulatory authorities in Europe and beyond have published in-depth studies about digital platforms and gatekeepers, some of which have since become foundational for regulatory efforts, in particular in the context of competition regulation. On a dedicated page, we provide an up-to-date overview of those studies we consider most relevant to our own work. 

Publications and studies

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Consultations 

Digital platforms and gatekeepers are currently the subject of lively debates and important consultations, especially at European level. On this page you will find an list of consultations focusing on regulation and competition in relation to platforms and gatekeepers.

Consultations

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