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Driving Digital Communications Ahead

Special edition of Trends presents 4th generation regulation

Dubai, 31 March 2014 – A special edition of Trends in Telecommunication Reform was launched today at the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-14) in Dubai. Highlighting the theme ‘4th Generation Regulation: Driving Digital Communications Ahead’, the report explores the policy and regulatory issues coming to the fore as the ICT sector accelerates into a broadband ecosystem of evolving applications and services. 

“The ICT sector transforms, converges and evolves at a dynamic pace,” said ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré. “The role of the regulator is itself subject to redefinition and evolution.”

Mr Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, noted “This special edition of Trends captures the unrelenting pace of change in the development of ICTs – as well as the diversity and adaptability of regulatory practices that have evolved in response to this change.”

The report highlights that access to online services today is vital in order to find a job, receive a salary, pay bills and taxes, vote, learn and conduct business. Governments throughout the world are striving to bring ICTs to everyone. ICT regulators recognize that in such a fast-changing and dynamic environment, new regulatory paradigms – a fourth generation of regulation – are essential to drive digital communications forward. Allowing ICT markets to thrive today is a matter of finding the balance between creating the right incentives and enforcing necessary rules. With the move towards more ex-post regulation, the barriers to market entry are gradually decreasing in virtually all market segments, opening the way to new market players and new business models.

The Trends report finds that the full development of the digital ecosystem is now heralding a fourth generation of regulation. Broadband networks and Internet services are increasingly viewed as non-optional utilities (or “rights”) whose availability and performance impact every aspect of the economy and societal development. The “fourth-generation regulator” must oversee an increased range of services, delivered over multiple broadband and converged networks that form the digital ecosystem. More than ever before, regulators are now being asked to protect consumers from a slew of ills such as inappropriate content, faulty billing and fraudulent online activities. So important is the Internet, that fourth-generation regulators are increasingly becoming involved not only in the economic necessity of building affordable access, but also in the attendant social opportunities and challenges arising from better-connected communities. 

The report also explores the issue of TV White Spaces, known as TVWS. The term usually refers to unoccupied portions of spectrum in the VHF/UHF terrestrial television frequency bands. While trials and tests are under way in some countries to improve the utilization of this highly valued spectrum resource by implementing sharing between the primary television service and other services such as wireless broadband applications, It is important, to identify, from a regulatory perspective, the potential TVWS trade-offs in relation to the goals set for the national ICT strategy. 

According to the report, the emergence of the Internet has radically changed technology approaches, market philosophies and regulatory paradigms of the telecommunication industry. Regulators are still coming to terms with these changes in ways that will advance the development of the digital economy. With regard to interconnection, the fusion of Internet and telecommunication regulation can best be achieved through adhering to sound regulatory principles described in the chapter.

The report also examines how new means of delivering content are being used as new business models emerge, with online advertising now rising as a key source of revenue. This consolidation across the value chain is underlined by just how much has changed in the last few years in terms of cross-ownership and the battle between telecommunication operators and over-the-top players.

There is a growing recognition that existing regulatory regimes should be adapted to deal with the realities of the converged marketplace. The huge growth in data being carried over telecommunication networks, and the increased importance of managing traffic flows, means that net neutrality is likely to remain an important issue on regulators’ radars. 

Exploring digital transactions and the mobile payments market, rapid growth has been seen, with the total value of transactions nearly doubling every year from 2009 through 2012.  Market commentators and forecasters expect this growth to continue apace for the foreseeable future. Seen broadly, this has been, and will be, a global phenomenon.

Another important area of digital transactions is rapidly being adopted, and with it comes to increasing attention from regulatory bodies and legal systems:  virtual currencies.  It is assumed that policy-makers and regulatory bodies are balancing two broad aims when it comes to mobile payments and related services. The first is to ensure that any new financial services are regulated to protect consumers and prevent misuse. The second encourages the development of services which will potentially bring significant economic and social benefits. 

The report highlights the incredible potential of the Internet as a unique economic enabler, generating an estimated value exceeding USD 14.4 trillion in the next ten years. Yet, currently, 99.4 per cent of physical objects that may one day be part of the ‘Internet of Everything’ are still unconnected. Moreover, large areas of the world remain unserved or under-served by Internet connections. One of the key technologies that can enable progress in Internet connectivity is Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). Industry statistics show that, in fact, IPv6 is entering the market at a respectable pace. But will it be enough to meet the demand for Internet growth? According to the report, government policy-makers and regulators have not been passive in promoting efforts to build capacity, deploy infrastructure and urge the adoption of IPv6, and regulators have had a foundational role in ensuring that regulations governing licensing, interconnection and numbering resources are aligned with efforts to promote the transition to IPv6.

The Trends report concludes that the previous regulatory categories no longer cover all the activities occurring in the sector. In the end, 4G regulation is about evolution, not radical change. As in a family or society, lessons learned from the past – or from other regulators dealing with similar changes – retain their usefulness as they are applied to novel situations. The past is merely a prologue, and the future will be one of opportunity and diversity in technologies and services. This special edition of the ITU Trends Report is available at www.itu.int/trends-special.

Media Accreditation:

Media accreditation for WTDC-14 is compulsory. Please see: www.itu.int/en/newsroom/wtdc-14/Pages/media-accreditation.aspx

For more information, please contact:

Sanjay Acharya
Chief, Media Relations and Public Information
tel +971 55 140 1079 UAE
tel sanjay.acharya@itu.int
Monica Albertini
Communication Officer,
Telecommunication Development Bureau
tel +971 55 140 3209 UAE
tel monica.albertini@itu.int  


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