Can competition alone produce the best outcomes for consumers of ICT goods and services? If not, why and where is regulation necessary?

The question of placing faith on the concept of competition alone to maintain principles of free-trade as well as serve the consumers well has been a subject of much debate. The divergent trends in various parts of the world economy and the associated promise of social equality need be taken into account in this discussion. This is particularly relevant in the United Kingdom, where Information and Communication Technology (ICT) goods and services are increasingly becoming key contributors to the GDP. Here, powerful and state-of-the art digital technology is being integrated into the marketplace, making the latter undergo a phase of transformation. The rest of this essay will delve into arguments in support of a regulatory framework for this new and crucial ICT industry.

In this digital age, information technology (IT) is providing a new medium to finally unite society and integrate and mould disparate components of industrial organization. According to a British management expert ‘opportunities and demands presented by modern technology promote the convergence of all societies towards a single set of social patterns and individual behaviors, due in part to the requirements of technology for a common set of development and implementation steps, and for common organization constraints”. In this scenario, for future corporate profitability as well as protection of consumer rights, “the boundaries of national identity must be subsumed to the need for quality products and global goodwill” (Kaye & Little, 2000). This can only be achieved through the development and adoption of an international legal code of electronic commerce.

The governing authorities in the UK intend to maximize the use of information and communications technology (ICT) to “improve the accessibility, quality and cost-effectiveness of public services, as well as to revitalise the relationship between citizens and public bodies working on their behalf”. But the evidence so far suggests that the general public/consumers are unlikely not to see the intended benefits, given the powerful corporate lobby that thwarts most positive policy initiatives. The UK region as a whole is seeing a digital revolution in the delivery of public services. A survey relating to the penetration of ICT products and services in the UK had found that the majority of the populace “lacks computer skills, never mind computer access” (Kaye & Little, 2000). As per the Audit Commission, only less than half of local authorities will have made notable improvements to the way their services are accessed in the next few years, not least because of lack of ICT wielding skills among local authority staff. More importantly, what this implies is that an overwhelming percentage of the ICT consumers are exposed to corporate exploitation in the absence of a protective legal code pertaining to ICT consumption (Kaye & Little, 2000).

The prominence of working-from-home employment models wherein employees work from their location of choice using through the deployment of information and communication technologies (ICT’s), has grown steadily in the United Kingdom during the 1990s. The importance of this in the context of organizational theories, consumers and legislators lies in it standing as an exemplar model of the future of economic organization. Seen in the backdrop of e-commerce and online consumerism, these new forms of societal organization create new legal issues. The core parameters of the qualitative aspects of consumption in an ICT based economy is difficult to fathom. Questions such as – Do consumers prefer this form of consumption? What are the costs and benefits? etc have no concrete answers yet. Though there is some research done on the implications of becoming a e-consumer, in terms of a series of atomized ‘effects’, but this ultimately fails to do full justice to how consumption is experienced. It also does not infer whether the trust placed in free competition alone is sufficient for consumer protection.

Moreover, there is evidence that a move toward ICT based online consumption “often entails target consumers becoming fragmented and stratified. ICT manufacturers may attempt to fragment and vertically disintegrate the online marketplace in order to facilitate measurement and control, which will make consumers more vulnerable to exploitation. Also,

“Voters and the opinion-forming media seem unaware of the potential empowerment that could come to local communities with a transition to e-services, e-debate and e-decision-making, not to mention e-voting. The commission reports that while councils agree with the government that the real driver for change should be new benefits for local people, the strongest incentive is still the need to meet the government’s targets for ICT provision” (Freeman, 2005).

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