Like many other buzzwords of the 1990s, ‘convergence’ is no longer a very fashionable term. Actually, it fell out of favour some time before the telecomand Internet bubble burst in 2000 and 2001. It might accordingly seem odd to devote a contribution to an outdated fad, yet, as will be seen, the convergence phenomenon has legal implications (discussed in the second section of this paper). A number of domestic law-makers and regulators sought to respond to it, including the EC and the US, whose respective approaches on a number of key points will be surveyed in the third and fourth part of this paper. The WTO has yet to deal with the issue, and this paper will end by outlining, in line with the EC and US approaches, problems which are likely to arise at the WTO level.
The convergence phenomenon and its legal implications
‘Convergence’ refers to the coming together of what were previously thought of as separate sectors, namely, telecommunications, information technology (IT) and media, as a result of technological developments that enabled pent-up customer demand to be satisfied. Convergence is taking place at a number of different levels. First, it can already be seen at the level of terminal equipment and networks. Nowadays, computers can be used not just for computing, but also for telecommunication and the reception of audio-visual media, telephones now have limited computing and media abilities andTVsets are following the trend. Similarly, networks originally conceived for telecommunications or broadcasting of audiovisual media (cable TV networks) can now be used for the other purpose, as well as for computing purposes (access to the Internet, etc.).