Sector coupling: How to regulate convergence?

In this special issue we explore the links between infrastructure sectors, especially in terms of regulating interfaces between the different sectors and regulating more integrated and converging sectors.

Historically, most infrastructure has developed independently of other infrastructure and constitutes a self-contained socio-technical system. For example, this is the case of electricity, gas, telecommunications, air transport and railways. Consequently, regulation was also set up in a self-contained sector-specific manner.

However, this way of doing things cannot continue in the future as the different infrastructure sectors are converging. This is, first, because of technological and economic dynamics that have been triggered by liberalisation and which have led to new technologies often at the interface between different sectors (e.g. power-to-gas), along with corresponding cross-sectoral business strategies. Convergence also results from recent developments in digital networks (and in particular in the fifth generation of wireless technologies, 5G) which increasingly act as drivers of convergence between sectors, leading to cross-sectoral and much more integrated infrastructure services (e.g. ‘Mobility-as-aService,’ or MaaS). The take-off of the Internet of Things (IoT) based on 5G networks, which is considered the next industrial revolution, is expected to accelerate this trend. Finally, climate and other ecological challenges force a direct comparison among different sectors, as in the case of externalities caused by energy generation (by renewables or by fossil fuels) or by different transport models. For all three reasons, a more convergent view of the different network industries is rapidly emerging, but will it translate into converging regulation or even into the regulation of convergence?

This special issue of the Network Industries Quarterly is dedicated to some of the best papers presented at the 9th Conference on the Regulation of Infrastructures which was organised by the Florence School of Regulation in June 2020. The first contribution, authored by Nolden, explores powering trains with renewable energy. Exploiting this huge transport decarbonisation potential depends on changes to policy and regulation, and the interpretation thereof, to procure and value the multiple benefits of sector coupling.

Knieps discovers data-driven sector coupling within smart sustainable cities. Smart sustainable cities provide vast potential for data-driven sector coupling due to the variety of smart network infrastructure and services involved. Digital twin technologies support city planning and city operation activities. However, virtual replicas cannot replace entrepreneurial solutions to governance problems through the organisation of market-driven activities.

Hoffmann discusses three entitlement problems in digital markets and the distributive nature of antitrust. Many conflicts that competition law faces in the digital economy can not only be understood as problems of competitive harm but also as issues of appropriation. Reviewing recent European case law, he identifies three typical disputes over the exercise of property entitlements and explores how competition law shapes legal regimes of appropriation in digital markets.

Paniccia analyses the implications for regulatory policies at the European level of patterns of competition and/or integration between traditional public transport and platform-based forms of mobility that are occurring in urban contexts, also considering the social and economic effects following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Separate articles can be downloaded from the links below: