Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What Has Competition Done for Consumers in Liberalised Markets?

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

Kati Cseres, University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam Center for Law & Economics, asks What Has Competition Done for Consumers in Liberalised Markets?

ABSTRACT: This paper reviews current regulatory approaches designed to correct market failures and distribute the benefits of liberalization to consumers in recently liberalised network industries. Present evaluations of the liberalisation process show that opening up markets to more competition has not yet resulted in either expected levels of competitiveness or in envisaged consumer benefits. Many consumer related failures were little anticipated; legislation to protect and assist consumers was either late coming or inadequate and often lacked effective enforcement. The paper examines market failures primarily related to the demand side; such as information asymmetries, unfair trade practices, unfair standard contract terms, high search and switching costs, and imperfect decision-making processes. It, however, discusses these imperfections in the broader context of market failures related to incoherent regulation and ineffective competition law enforcement and shows how poor coordination between these regulatory fields leads to suboptimal outcomes. The interplay between general consumer protection and specific consumer issues of sector regulation is discussed and elaborates on specific market deficiencies that draw attention to the intersection between consumer protection and competition law. The discussion incorporates theoretical insights from neoclassical and behavioural economics to consumer problems. The paper focuses on what the liberalization process, so far, has done for consumers by looking at and evaluating both the legislative and policy developments and recent proposals at European level as well as actual implementation and enforcement of these legislations at national level. More specifically, it deals with the energy and the telecommunications markets and their recent developments in the EU. Two case studies provide insight on national regulatory approaches: a case study of the liberalization of the Hungarian telecommunications market and a case study of the liberalization of the Dutch electricity market. The paper proposes a new mode of regulation as well as a new mode of coordination among different layers and fields of regulation and enforcement in order to remedy consumer problems and to achieve competitive markets.


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