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Global Industry Leaders’ Forum
More spectrum and light-touch regulation
photo credit: ITU/V. Martin

More access to radio-frequency spectrum is required, as well as light-touch regulation. That was one of the messages from the Global Industry Leaders’ Forum, held in Beirut, Lebanon on 9 November 2009. Representatives of operators, manufacturers, infrastructure specialists and consultancies took part in three sessions of candid debate. These covered regulatory and policy issues, with a focus on how to stimulate investment in information and communication technologies (ICT) in hard economic times; innovative approaches to connect the unconnected, and the convergence of the Internet protocol (IP) and telecommunications.

The Forum, the second of its kind, was chaired by Zain Group’s Chief Executive Officer Saad Al Barrak. Its conclusions were presented to the Global Symposium for Regulators that took place on 10–12 November 2009. Alongside more efficient management of spectrum and a light touch by regulators, the report stressed the need for predictable, stable and technology-neutral regulation, as well as improved regional harmonization.

Impact of the financial crisis on ICT investment

What can industry, governments and regulators do together to face challenging economic conditions and continue to develop ICT? What role can broadband play in stimulating economic growth? How can regulators help? Participants noted that these issues were also discussed at ITU TELECOM WORLD 2009 in Geneva in October.

Among the Forum’s recommendations was that, in order to promote investment, regulators need to pursue simplified procedures with limited taxation. And more investment in infrastructure could be stimulated by releasing harmonized radio-frequency spectrum and other spectrum re-farming opportunities. Regulators must be able to respond rapidly and with greater flexibility to the demand for spectrum, which has continued to grow steadily despite the financial crisis.

It was underlined that industry needs to invest now to meet tomorrow’s demands for broadband connectivity, and cannot base investment projections on yesterday’s needs.

Universal access policies in the 21st century

A session on “Universal access policies in the 21st century” looked at the role of universal service funds, and what approaches should be adopted to stimulate broadband roll-out in underserved communities. What factors are making near-universal access to voice connectivity possible, and how can this experience be replicated for broadband?

One of the recommendations was that universal service funds can be used to extend coverage to remote and high-cost areas, where it is not commercially viable to build networks. This should be done in close collaboration with industry. Meanwhile, more accessible types of terminal device need to be created, as well as content in local languages.

Modern networks will be deployed rapidly, if market players have the right incentives. But the pace of roll-out and growth are heavily dependent on national policies and regulations, participants concluded.

Convergence of IP and telecommunications

The third session addressed the issue of how convergence between IP and telecommunications will play out. What opportunities will lead to increased revenues for telecommunication operators, Internet service providers, software and content companies, and others? Should all traffic be priced the same and have the same priority? What should be the role of regulators?

It was recommended that regulation should be lighter, more flexible and more targeted, in order to stimulate investment and enable demand to be met more rapidly. In addition, regulators need to plan for the long term and define clear goals based on tomorrow’s needs. Regulators must also move rapidly to make more spectrum available (including the “digital dividend” arising from the switch to digital broadcasting).

The Forum also recommended that government agencies responsible for spectrum management should be encouraged to set aside significant amounts of spectrum for wireless broadband access. Some participants added that cost-effective access to “white space” in under-utilized spectrum below 1 GHz (suitable for low- and medium-power applications) could enable consumers to benefit from this capacity, without compromising the rights of licensees and licensed services. The Forum also recognized studies under way in the ITU Radiocommunication Sector in preparation for the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2012, which will consider an agenda item on cognitive radio.

ITU, which plays a critical role in global spectrum allocation, was asked to continue to work actively to help companies and governments alike create an enabling environment to support new services, cheaper pricing, and faster network roll-out to underserved areas.


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