Northeastern professor Kirsten Rodine-Hardy tackles hot topics of globalization and liberalization in her new book, Global Markets and Government Regulation in Telecommunications, and she’s not afraid to take on conventional wisdom. Her book rejects the idea that countries adopt economic regulatory changes solely to keep up with a competitive market and, instead, she looks for an explanation via membership in international institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the European Union (EU).
Professor Rodine-Hardy’s research is important because it focuses on how governments regulate telecommunications, a major driving force in globalization. Telecoms make global business simple by connecting people across the world quickly and easily. With increasing technological advances such as wireless and 3G/4G, communicating with people far away gets easier and easier. Technological changes also create new challenges for governance. These challenges set the stage for Rodine-Hardy’s book.
Technological developments in telecommunications have also made it easier for more competition to enter the market. Prior to the 1990s, most countries had a state-owned and state-regulated monopolistic telecom company. By the early 2000s, over 158 countries had decided to make some liberal telecommunications reforms. This means that many countries established an independent regulator, similar to the FCC in the US, some countries made it easier for more competition to enter the telecommunications market, and a few countries privatized their state-owned monopoly telecommunication companies. All of these changes make telecommunications markets more competitive and liberal. Not every state pursued the same course, but the vast majority moved in the direction of liberalization over a relatively short period of time. Of all the reforms, the one most commonly adopted was to establish an independent regulator.
What could cause such a dramatic and sudden policy convergence? Liberal political economists would point only to market forces and technological changes, while realists would consider the ability that large, powerful states and institutions have to coerce other states into compliance. Professor Rodine-Hardy takes a different approach. She argues that these countries learned from one another through their participation in international institutions. She shows how policy convergence often occurs through a learning process rather than a process of coercion. Her discovery is a breakthrough in how we understand the role of international institutions.
First, she analyzes a number of factors that could have caused this policy convergence. She looks at traditional indicators such as a country’s need for foreign direct investment, how much the country restricts the flow of capital across its borders, and the country’s dependence on trade. None of these factors proved to be explanatory enough, so she looked at membership in the WTO and the OECD. Her analysis revealed that a State’s membership in the WTO or the OECD was highly predictive of whether a country would make liberal reforms.
Then, she also takes an in-depth look at a number of countries in Northern and Central Europe to get a closer look at how the phenomenon of policy diffusion has historically played out. In Central Europe, she compares and contrasts four similar countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia – looking at how their telecom regulations changed over time. Then, in Northern Europe, she takes the same approach with Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, and Sweden. She notes variation in how each country approached reform. These case studies add to the quantitative analysis by helping the reader envision exactly how each country learned from the experiences of other countries that had already adopted reforms.
The case studies also allow Rodine-Hardy to specifically anaylze the EU and its effects on the policies of members and candidates for membership. When states want to join the EU, they have to align their laws with EU standards. To facilitate this transition, candidates for membership are paired with current members to learn from their experiences. As Rodine-Hardy shows, this pairing of countries helped new members learn about and imitate the regulatory policies of other countries.
To supplement the case studies, she interviewed several decision-makers in Central European countries, who confirmed her findings. They agreed that international institutions, more than other conventional factors, had influenced them to implement liberal telecom reforms. In Hungary, for example, the policy-makers she interviewed said that they sought to model their regulatory authority after Finland and Portugal. While outsiders may sometimes see the EU as coercing its members into conforming, these interviews and other research shows us that, in the case of telecommunication, the process was one of learning and sharing with member states.
There is still room for more research, as Rodine-Hardy notes at the end of her book. Case studies outside Europe may reveal more nuances and variations. Will the same conclusions apply to countries like Botswana and South Africa? And, does membership in regional trading networks have an impact on regulatory policy? What other variables are not included in this analysis that could be at work? Rodine-Hardy ends her book by opening her conclusions to the possibility of future studies. Along with her Northeastern researchers, Rodine-Hardy will be working to address these questions in the future.
I think that this research offers a fresh perspective on how international institutions can impact domestic policies. In the case of telecommunications, they facilitate sharing and learning among states. Rodine-Hardy’s conclusion challenges liberal economic thought and lends an alternative perspective on how states make decisions, especially when it comes to regulating global markets.
Even though Global Markets addresses such important issues, it fails to appeal to a broad reader base. It can be very dense and technical, certainly not something to pick up for a light read, but rather, it is intended for students and researchers in political science, international affairs, and economics. It appeals to the academic world because it seeks to fill a gap in the literature on policy diffusion by focusing on international institutions in a new way. So, although it may not seem relevant to a popular audience, it makes a valuable contribution to the field of international relations.
In addition, the book only addresses a narrow piece of international relations, which can be both a weakness and a strength. On one hand, it makes it difficult to connect to broader issues of global governance. Rodine-Hardy looks primarily at fixed-line telecom regulation in the 1990s, so it is unclear how her conclusions will apply to other types of telecoms. Her conclusions may also seem less relevant to young readers because the policy diffusion that she examines occurred mainly in the 1990s. While this is not very long ago from a political-historical perspective, it may seem irrelevant to young people in a technologically fast-paced society.
On the other hand, her focused approach allows her to explore the subject in a deep, comprehensive manner. In her quantitative analysis, she uses a very specific dependent variable: when a country establishes an independent telecom regulator – which allows her to conduct an econometric analysis in order to discover which factors are most predictive. It would be unreasonable and unproductive for her to have examined a broader topic in this fashion. Only because she looks at such a specific historical event is she able to use such high quality data and draw such clear conclusions.
Her methodology provides a template for addressing lingering questions. Are international institutions as important for the diffusion of other types of regulatory policy? Her conclusion about international institutions implies that perhaps we need to develop more institutions to address future challenges in global governance, especially when it comes to new technologies. It would be nice to think that telecom regulation could be used as a model of international collaboration in the sharing of solutions to new challenges. More research on the diffusion of international policy could encourage countries to follow this model in the future.
Watch out for further publications from Professor Rodine-Hardy as she looks to add to her research. This research shows she has the potential for future contributions to academic discussions on international institutions and telecommunications! In addition, she has received a grant from the U.S. Navy to study nanotechnology. Emerging nanotechnology has both military and commercial purposes. How do governments regulate technology with dual uses? How do we protect military technology if it has other uses as well? How can countries work together to create appropriate regulatory solutions? Rodine-Hardy seeks to answer these questions and more.
When she isn’t conducting research on global regulation of emerging technology, Rodine Hardy is an assistant professor, teaching International Relations and International Political Economy for the Northeastern College of Social Sciences and Humanities. In addition, she is a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students. She has taken on a team of students to help her with her research, but is also guiding them through their own independent research projects for Northeastern’s Research, Innovation, and Scholarship Expo (RISE). Keep an eye out for more research from this Northeastern faculty member and her team.
Political Science ’15
 Kirsten Rodine-Hardy, Global Markets and Government Regulation in Telecommunications (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), xv.
 Kirsten Rodine-Hardy, Global Markets and Government Regulation in Telecommunications (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Appendix E.
 Kirsten Rodine-Hardy, Global Markets and Government Regulation in Telecommunications (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 72-77.
 Kirsten Rodine-Hardy, Global Markets and Government Regulation in Telecommunications (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 79-127
 Kirsten Rodine-Hardy, Global Markets and Government Regulation in Telecommunications (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 128-147
 Kirsten Rodine-Hardy, Global Markets and Government Regulation in Telecommunications (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 48.
 Kirsten Rodine-Hardy, Global Markets and Government Regulation in Telecommunications (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 111.