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WSIS five years on
Enabling the ICT environment
 
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Photo credit: AFP/Imaginechina
 

The Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, adopted by world leaders during the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005, recognized that an enabling environment at the national and international level is essential for the development of the information society. ITU is the lead international organization assisting countries in designing and enforcing modern regulatory frameworks for telecommunications and information and communication technologies (ICT).

In May 2008, acknowledging ITU’s commitment to bridging the digital divide by creating such an enabling environment, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) officially handed over to ITU the lead facilitation role on WSIS Action Line C6 (Enabling environment). Since then, ITU has been acting as the sole facilitator for this Action Line, building upon its regular work.

A facilitation meeting, organized by ITU in Geneva in May 2009 as an integral part of the WSIS Forum, recognized that a platform for sharing best practices by all stakeholders would be a viable driver of implementation of an enabling environment. A similar meeting, held in Geneva in May 2010, agreed that multi-stakeholder partnerships (including public-private and private-private partnerships) are the shortest way to a broadband world.

Market growth and regulation

Huge strides have been made in the penetration of ICT services since the first phase of (WSIS) in 2003, with particularly strong gains in mobile voice services (see story The world in 2010: ICT facts and figures).

ICT markets have been dynamic — with new business models and the commercialization of the latest technologies. This has allowed for strong revenue growth for operators and better value for money for consumers. Behind the scenes, regulation has been one of the key factors creating an enabling environment which has been driving this growth in the ICT sector.

To continue making progress in creating an enabling environment for investment in networks and services, competition and innovation, ITU has drawn up a road map for the implementation of WSIS Action Line C6 until 2015. This road map catalogues a wide range of ongoing ITU activities in the area of policy and regulation. It is intended to evolve as a living document and will be updated on a regular basis with new activities and initiatives.

Changing regulatory frameworks

Since WSIS, ITU has continued to assist countries around the world to pursue sector reforms, ranging from introducing limited changes to extended restructuring. The first wave of regulatory reform has resulted in the establishment of separate telecommunication/ICT regulators, privatization, and the liberalization of markets. Regulatory reform over the last five years has attempted to create more transparent and stable legal and regulatory frameworks to:

  • oversee the introduction of competition and curb anticompetitive behaviour by natural monopoly incumbents;

  • safeguard social interests in areas where the market may be unable to deliver socially optimal outcomes;

  • protect and empower consumers;

  • establish ground rules for the use of common resources (spectrum, numbering and Internet protocol (IP) addresses).

Major changes in the sector have flowed from technological innovations, convergence of services, and growth in competition. These changes may now require a further regulatory shift to open new market segments to competition, and to update licensing and spectrum management practices in order to foster growth in broadband networks, converged services and new media as well.

Key ITU initiatives undertaken

ITU has undertaken many activities that foster the development of an enabling environment worldwide, including information sharing, creation of tools for effective regulation, national and regional assistance, and creation of training materials and opportunities. Some of these ongoing activities are highlighted here.

Since its launch in 2000, the annual Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) organized by ITU provides a venue for regulators and policy-makers from developed and developing countries to meet and exchange views and experiences. GSR also fosters an open dialogue between regulators and key ICT stakeholders: the private sector, investors and consumers.

The outcomes of each year’s GSR are incorporated into ITU’s annual Trends in Telecommunication Reform report. This publication is a key part of ITU’s effort to explore and amplify the wisdom of policy-makers and regulators in the ICT sector. For example, “Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2007: The Road to Next-Generation Networks” reported on the evolution of circuit-switched telecommunication into nextgeneration networks, as operators around the world fight to remain competitive. The report aimed at enabling regulators and policy-makers in developing countries to better understand the changes transforming the ICT sector so that they can evolve their policy and regulatory frameworks to leverage today’s technological and market developments.

Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2008: Six Degrees of Sharing”, published in November 2008, benefited from contributions to the eighth meeting of the GSR that took place in Pattaya, Thailand, in March 2008. The report outlined sharing strategies grouped under six categories: passive and active infrastructure sharing; open access to international capacity; regulations for sharing by businesses; sharing by end users, and harmonization of policy and regulations.

The Trends report: “Hands-on or Hands-off? Stimulating Growth through Effective ICT Regulation,” published in February 2010, focused on the delicate balance in regulation needed to meet the expectations of ICT stakeholders. This balance is critical to stimulating growth in a converged environment. The blurring of boundaries between the once separate telecommunication, Internet, broadcasting and media worlds is bringing new players to the arena, driving new opportunities and challenges. The report was enriched with contributions on the same theme from the 9th meeting of the GSR held in Beirut, Lebanon, in November 2009.

To better engage industry in the planning of future policy and regulatory reforms, GSR has since 2008 been preceded (in the same venue) by the Global Industry Leaders’ Forum (GILF). For example, the 10th GSR meeting that took place in Dakar, Senegal, on 10–12 November 2010, was preceded on 9 November by the 3rd GILF. Both events shared the overall theme of “Enabling Tomorrow’s Digital World”. One of the conclusions of the Dakar meeting was that a new ladder of regulation may now be required to set the right balance between service and infrastructure competition to address the challenges associated with access to broadband networks and services.

Recent GSR meetings saw the adoption by the world community of regulators of best practice guidelines focusing on key areas of regulation, such as universal access (2003); promotion of low-cost broadband connectivity (2004); spectrum management (2005); the migration to next-generation networks (2007); infrastructure sharing (2008); innovative regulatory approaches in a converged world to strengthen the foundation of a global information society (2009); and enabling open access (2010).

The web-based ICT Regulation Toolkit, developed by ITU and its partner infoDev and updated on a continuous basis, assists regulators in the design of effective and enabling regulatory frameworks by sharing analysis and information on important regulatory issues. The toolkit provides regulators, policy-makers, telecommunication service providers, sector experts and the general public with the latest updates on regulatory topics, best practices and case studies.

ITU maintains the World Telecommunication Regulatory Database, which can be accessed from the “ICT Eye” website, a one stop-shop for ICT indicators and statistics, as well as regulatory and policy profiles. ITU also maintains the “Tariffs Policies” database and a database of scientific institutions focusing on telecommunication and ICT.

In addition, the ITU/World Bank ICT Regulatory Decisions Clearinghouse is an online resource that provides a one-stop access point to decisions originating from ICT decision-making bodies around the world such as telecommunication regulators, industry ombudsmen and specialized dispute resolution tribunals.

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Photo credit: AFP
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The Global Regulators’ Exchange (G-REX) is ITU’s password-protected online discussion forum reserved for regulators and policy-makers. The virtual forum facilitates the exchange of best practices among fellow regulators.

Regional regulatory meetings, workshops and training events have been key in providing direct assistance in regulation. Examples include the Telecommunication and ICT regulation and Partnership Forum organized in 2008 under the theme “Connect Africa: challenges for regulators and operators”, and again in 2009 under the theme “Universal Service/Access Fund”. Also, in 2009, seminars on cost and tariffs were organized in Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas, alongside the Regional Tariff Group meetings for these three regions, held under the auspices of Study Group 3 of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU–T).

Meanwhile, the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF-09) organized by ITU in Lisbon, Portugal, in April 2009, examined the implications of convergence, including Internet-related public policy issues, and new emerging telecommunications policy and regulatory issues. WTPF-09 adopted six opinions on: Internet-related public policy matters; the implications of the advent of next-generation networks and advanced broadband access; ICT and the environment; collaborative strategies for creating confidence and security in the use of ICT; capacity building in support of the adoption of IPv6 (or Internet protocol version 6); and the International Telecommunication Regulations.

ITU assists its members to develop policies to ensure ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities. In May 2009, ITU together with its partner G3ict launched an online e-Accessibility toolkit to share best practices and to facilitate the training of policy-makers and regulators in mainstreaming ICT accessibility issues to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In that context, ITU has provided capacity building for the Asia-Pacific region, the African countries, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Negotiating tariffs or rates is a delicate matter, whether for a new operator entering a liberalized market or for a regulator wishing to set affordable tariffs for national calls without compromising competitiveness among operators. The COSITU model permits network operators, service providers, regulators, and policy-makers to calculate costs, taxes related to trade in international traffic, interconnection rates between local and international operators, and tariffs for national and international telephone services, for both fixed and mobile telephones.

In the fast-changing ICT environment, pricing and costmodelling practices are central to the regulator’s role in fostering a fair, competitive and healthy sector that ensures affordable access to services and promotes investment incentives for all market players. It is therefore necessary to provide the technical staff of regulatory authorities with sufficient cost-modelling tools and knowledge to enable them to understand how to develop their own cost models or to adapt existing cost models to the changing environment. To respond to this need, a two-week, high-level training on how to develop cost models was provided to regulatory experts in Geneva in 2008, in addition to a two-day executive-level training event, designed for heads of regulatory authorities, on the strategic impact of cost models. Expert-level training sessions on cost model development were held in 2009 and 2010 for African, Arab, Caribbean, Asia-Pacific and Latin American countries.

Through a project funded by the European Commission, ITU led an initiative to support an integrated ICT market in West Africa. This resulted in the adoption of a harmonized ICT legal framework, which is now being transposed into national law by 15 West African States. Building on the success of the West Africa project, ITU and the European Commission are implementing new projects to harmonize ICT frameworks, and to build human and institutional capacity in the field of policy and regulation in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Island countries.

Since 2008, a number of developing countries have benefited from direct assistance from ITU in regulatory reform, costing, and creating an enabling environment for investment. These include Afghanistan, Albania, Bhutan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Costa Rica, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Kiribati, Laos P.D.R., Paraguay, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Swaziland and Thailand. A number of training sessions were carried out specifically for the Asia-Pacific region, under the ITU Centre of Excellence Network initiative, to ensure that policy and regulation create an enabling environment.

ITU has undertaken projects in the Asia-Pacific region with partners such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the National Telecommunications Commission of Thailand (NTC) to create tools for rural ICT policy and regulatory development.

Responding to specific requests from Member States, ITU is assisting countries in building national capacity and improving awareness on Internet-related public policy issues, including Internet governance. For example, ITU supports Member States in their assessment and management of the country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) and the creation of generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) in order to improve the development of, and access to, ICT content and applications for national or regional needs, in local languages.

ITU provided assistance, including technical assistance and capacity building, to Somalia to finalize the re-delegation process for its “.so” country code Top Level Domain. This will allow the Government of Somalia to start making full use of this critical Internet resource and to develop local content.

In the case of gTLDs, their development will offer new opportunities and allow for innovation. In this regard, ITU has assisted the Arab region, in coordination with the League of Arab States, to establish the new “.ARAB gTLD”.

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ITU also provides assistance to support Member States with their migration to IPv6 to ensure that they can benefit from equitable and fair access to this key Internet resource. ITU has provided assistance to countries in the East African Community (EAC) and South African Development Community (SADC) on the creation of national Internet exchange points (IXPs), and on achieving efficient and cost-effective regional Internet connectivity.

On the radiocommunication front, ITU carries out studies and develops Recommendations on the broad aspects of spectrum management. The improvement of the international spectrum regulatory framework was considered during the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2007. This conference decided to call for further studies on general allocation and procedural issues of spectrum management. These studies are expected to provide flexibility to countries in accommodating converging services. New regulatory measures are also being studied in the run-up to the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2012 and are expected, among other things, to enable the introduction of software-defined radio and cognitive radio systems.

Looking ahead

In today’s online world, access to broadband, and to broadband-enabled services and applications, is critical, not only to ensure economic growth but also to respond to changing business practices and social behaviour sparked by the rapid technological changes taking place in the industry. These changes call for new regulatory models that:

  • promote competition, innovation and growth;

  • allow for different degrees of regulation (from heavy to light touch) according to the different segments of the ICT market;

  • foster access to, and adoption of, next-generation networks, and access to broadband applications and services for all.

Regulators need to take the time to examine how changes in technology are transforming society into a knowledgebased one, and what this means with regard to redefining universal access and service. This is particularly important in order to extend universal service beyond network deployment, aiming at providing access to the digital world to all, based on sustainable business models (especially in such areas as education, school connectivity, e-health, new media and content).

Regulators need not only to understand engineering and to carry out complex economic and legal analysis, but also to have the foresight to quickly recognize and adapt to shifting technology paradigms. They need to be ready to question previous approaches in a fast-evolving market, while nevertheless applying consistent regulatory principles.

Regulators face the challenge of judging when market failure requires regulation, and where regulation is no longer required and can be removed. As the impact of regulation endures for many years after regulations are issued, regulators face great responsibility to ensure that they maintain minds as open as the Internet itself.

More than ever, ITU is committed — through a range of targeted activities — to helping Member States strengthen regulation and policy to support growth of the sector and ensure a level playing field.

In many ways, WSIS has catalysed implementation in the area of creating an enabling environment. Considerable progress has been made towards building a richer and more inclusive information society, in which everyone can participate.

 

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