Commissioners, ladies and gentlemen,
May I first of all express the ITU’s gratitude to His Excellency Mr Ivanovski and his colleagues in his Ministry and the Agency for Electronic Communications for their support and close collaboration in preparing the case studies that Dr Touré mentioned in his opening remarks earlier this morning and to which I will be referring shortly.
Over the last decade, countries across South Eastern Europe have made tremendous efforts to review and adapt their legal and regulatory frameworks to the fast changes taking place in the ICT sector and towards building tomorrow’s digital society. Inspired by the work being carried out in the European Union and the desire to bring their regulatory frameworks into conformity with the acquis communautaire, almost all have adopted simplified general authorization licensing regimes that reduce the barriers to market entry. As a result, ICT markets throughout the region are now competitive.
That said, whilst the continent of Europe is undoubtedly the global leader in broadband connectivity, with fixed- and mobile-broadband penetration rates of 26% and 54% respectively, the picture in south east Europe is rather mixed, with a substantial broadband divide separating those that are already among the top 25 broadband economies -- Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Slovenia – from the rest. Bridging this divide will require substantial efforts.
If I may offer here some overall advice, the consensus of global experts, as expressed in the best practice guidelines drawn up by Global Symposium for Regulators, is that including broadband internet access in the definition of universal service can be a highly effective first element in bridging the digital divide. Moreover, it is similarly recognized that these universal service programs can be financed by revenues raised from the activities of a wide range of market players, as well as from alternative sources. Indeed, these guidelines note that smart subsidies can be used to achieve universal service goals without distorting the market. The next meeting of this Global Symposium will take place in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 2-4 October .
Happily, the broadband ecosystem is well understood in South-Eastern Europe. And in any case, the 2020 targets of the EU Digital Agenda challenge many economies from this part of Europe to ensure that ICTs remain on the top of their agenda.
Many of the region’s countries have already adopted an impactful national policy, strategy or plan to promote broadband. Such is the case in Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. They generally share a common focus on building nationwide broadband infrastructure, on stimulating demand through the promotion of online services and applications, and on extending connectivity to provide universal access. I should note here that assisted by ITU experts, Albania is engaged drafting a strategic plan along these lines.
The two recent cases studies developed in partnership with the Broadband Commission and conducted by the ITU examine the strategies of Macedonia and Romania. They point to a number of interesting elements worthy of emulation.
In particular, the responsible Ministry and the ICT regulator each developed, at different stages, strategies to boost the information society. In Romania, the regulator adopted a strategy first and then the Ministry. In Macedonia, the Ministry adopted a strategy and now the regulator is in the final stage of adopting a strategy. It is not crucially important which body develops and implements its strategy first -- what matters is that the strategies complement each other, and for this the Ministry and the regulatory agency must work in cooperation: this helps ensure a transparent and predictable regulatory environment, one that encourages investment.
As a result of this cooperation, and of the competition between ISPs and the presence of alternative neighborhood operators, fixed broadband prices are very affordable in both countries and consumers benefit from vibrant competition in mobile broadband.
In Romania, broadband penetration (for fixed and mobile) reached 40 % in 2010. In Macedonia, where as recently as 2002 there were virtually no broadband services, the mobile and fixed penetration rate amounted to one third of the population in 2010. Moreover, the Macedonian authorities have implemented school connectivity projects that have brought the ratio of pupils to computers down to 1.45. This, added to the possibility for people in remote areas to benefit from free access to the Internet at certain “Kiosk” locations, is indicative of the promising progress towards digital inclusion.
Before closing, I should like to draw your attention to a new series of Broadband Reports that the ITU will be releasing this week. These reports focus on cutting edge policy, regulatory and economic aspects of broadband. These, along with the case studies that I just mentioned, will complement the resources already made available by ITU on its Broadband universe portal and on the Broadband Commission’s website.
Thank you very much for your attention
Ohrid, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 4/2/2012