Swiss Telecommunications Policy: From State Monopoly to Intense Regulation

Special Report: Forming Networks in Switzerland
By Alex Fischer


Telecommunications offer one of the most fascinating examples of large-scale infrastructure policy shifts under European and international pressure. This contribution proposes a time series analysis of major reforms in Swiss telecommunications policy and of its underlying reasons. Originally, the characteristics of the telecommunications sector led to a monopolistic market structure. While the patterns of this policy were stable for many decades, a worldwide policy shift changed the fundamental assumptions on which the original policy was based. In Switzerland, a series of consecutive reforms revolutionized the telecommunications policy and changed every bit of the regulatory, supply and ownership policy : from monopoly to (strongly regulated) competition, from the state-run PTT to the partially privatized Swisscom, new regulatory authorities (ComCom, Ofcom) and a new framework in order to guarantee universal service.
This contribution analyzes the rationales behind the old policy and describes the main patterns of the new framework. The main part of the paper discusses the reasons for the domestic policy shifts : it shows that the conditions in terms of technological development, ideology, economic theory as well as international and European policy pressure changed enormously within a few years. These factors modified the incentive structure at the domestic level considerably and altered the domestic power configuration. Among the major political actors, nobody could fundamentally challenge the reform movement. Instead, skeptical actors offered their support for the reform in exchange for some minor concessions in specific fields that were of particular relevance for their interests.
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