Tendering Universal Service Obligations in Liberalized Markets
Competition and Regulation in Network Industries
In the past decades, several countries have introduced reverse auctions for allocating universal service or public mission subsidies in various industries. Examples include urban transport, air transport and telecommunications. Recently, such mechanisms have also been envisioned in liberalized postal markets. Issuing an invitation to tender for obligations in otherwise liberalized markets significantly differs from auctioning off a monopolistic provision of services or goods ("competition for the market"), as is e.g. the case with spectrum auctions in the telecommunications sector. We discuss the rationale for introducing such a regulatory regime as well as conceptual and practical issues concerning its implementation. <br>It turns out that designing an efficient tender for universal service subsidies in liberalized markets is considerably more difficult than tendering e.g. a monopoly franchise. A first reason is that the cost assessment is more complex in the former case as future competitive market outcomes have to be anticipated; in the case of franchise bidding, at least the number of competitors is given by the tender itself. Hence, revenue effects caused by competitors are easier to calculate. Second, the threat of a winner's moral hazard requires more detailed ex ante regulations. These raise the social cost of universal service provision. Compared to direct designation of universal services with ex post compensation, tendering causes a series of fundamental concerns and trade-offs that make the application of auctions less attractive than in other sectors.
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