Secretary General, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you about some policy issues concerning telephony, based on the Internet Protocol. The ITU is an important global forum for discussing telecommunications and new emerging communication technologies. What we are speaking about today is truly an emerging area. This is illustrated by the fact that there is still no generally accepted terminology for IP telephony.
In Europe, and globally, the telecom market is showing a high level of growth. We see an ever-increasing supply of services. Prices are going down and more citizens have access to communication services such as mobile telephony and the Internet.
There are several important policy aspects
of IP telephony.
I will focus on:
The need for IT-skilled professionals
The need for promotion of technology advancements
The need for competition and affordable services
These are in my mind important factors for economic growth of the emerging knowledge-based economy.
Firstly, I would like to talk about human resources. I firmly believe that without highly skilled professionals we may not see a further development of new services within the communications sector. I am particularly concerned about the lack of skilled IT professionals.
The skills gap related to IT has been identified as one of the most important blocks to the expansion of the IT sector and the wider economy. I believe that this calls for strong measures to improve the IT skills of the labour force, or the lack of IT skilled labour will slow down economic growth and prosperity. The lack of skilled workers presents a particular problem for IP telephony.
This problem was discussed at an informal meeting of the telecom and labour ministers a few weeks ago. The ministers stressed that the increasing IT skills gap both in basic skills that are relevant to all workers, and specialist skills, is a joint problem for the European Union. I would like to extend this to say that it is also a global concern.
This problem must be taken seriously and tackled through both short-term and long-term measures aimed at improving skills. At the meeting there was broad support for a high level task force in order to address the issue of skills and mobility.
Secondly, telecommunications, information technology, media and IP networks such as the Internet are linked. The same services can be delivered over a number of platforms and received through a range of terminals. This convergence will continue and make it less relevant to separate IP based networks from traditional telecommunication networks.
Thirdly, effective competition can lead to many services and give users freedom to choose their services. Competition can also result in lower prices. The way that most economies are developing shows a need for more communication services.
Now, to move on to the regulatory aspects of IP telephony.
First, the present status of IP telephony within the European Union. The European Commission has concluded that Internet telephony in general falls outside of the present definition of voice telephony. The reason for this is that the quality of IP telephony is not yet on the same level as traditional telecommunication services.
As you may know, the framework for telecommunications within the EU is changing. But until the new framework comes into force in 2002 or 2003, the Commissions conclusion that Internet telephony generally falls outside the scope of the current regulation, will remain valid.
What will be the status of IP telephony under the new regulatory system?
The purpose of this reform is to adapt current legislation to a new market and technology situation. The new framework is about electronic communication services. The legislative package strives for light-touch and flexible rules that will encourage new technologies. It will not distinguish between different technologies.
The new regulatory framework covers all forms of electronic communications services, including IP telephony. This will enable member states to have identical rules for IP telephony services and traditional PSTN services. However, the more detailed implications of the new framework on IP telephony depend on the outcome of the ongoing process.
I believe that the best way forward is to have a technology neutral framework that will apply even-handedly to similar services, whatever the technology.
The framework should also support competition among operators. The regulation must mean that no operators have favours.
The framework on electronic communication services is a high priority during the Swedish presidency of the EU and we hope to make significant progress.
To sum up, it is important to address skills or we will not see new developments in the communications sector. The European Union approach to IP telephony is that IP telephony should be treated as any other communication service. It is important that legislation helps all technologies. Legislation should foster competition. Similar services should be treated alike.
Finally, Secretary General, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is important to remember that we need diversity, flexibility and innovation in our services. I would like to encourage the ITU to continue its important work on new telecommunication issues in a global perspective.
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