The meeting, which welcomed a total of 648 participants from 89 countries, sought to forge a shared vision and understanding of the many challenges now facing ICT regulators in increasingly complex converged markets.
“This GSR has been our most successful ever, in terms of the number of participants and the quality and relevance of the discussions we’ve heard over the course of the event. This testifies to the critical role regulators are now playing in defining the future shape of markets characterized by fast-changing technologies and a rapidly evolving, increasingly complex competitive landscape,” said ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour.
With the tough current economic climate prompting some operators to rein-in network development plans, the meeting placed special emphasis on the need for the public and private sectors to better understand one another’s needs and work more cooperatively to support demand for ICT services.
The ICT industry played a central role in the one-day Global Industry Leaders Forum (GILF), held on Monday 9 November, just ahead of the opening of the GSR. Chaired by Dr Saad Al Barrak, CEO of the Zain Group, the forum encouraged frank, interactive discussion among participants representing operators, ICT manufacturers and application developers, service providers, infrastructure specialists and consultancies. Those discussions went on to form the core of the GILF Chairman’s report, which was presented to the GSR at its opening session on Tuesday 10 November, for in-depth consideration by delegates representing the global ICT regulatory community.
GILF participants stressed the need for predictable, stable regulation, improved regional harmonization of regulatory frameworks, more efficient management of radiofrequency spectrum, and a ‘light touch’ by regulators to allow markets to evolve naturally. They also advocated technology-neutral regulation, and urged regulators to make provision for the ongoing development of converged services by ensuring sufficient spectrum is available to support future growth. ITU, which plays a critical role in global spectrum allocation through its Radiocommunication Sector, 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.
In his opening address to the GSR on Tuesday 10 November, the Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), Mr Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, noted that mobile penetration will reach 67% of the global population in 2009, representing 4.6 billion mobile subscriptions. ITU figures also show that over one quarter of the world’s population is now using the Internet. “If we are to build on this success, finding common ground among ICT stakeholders will be critical to stimulating growth in a converged environment. ICT regulators and policy makers need to keep pace with a fast changing environment and carry out a delicate balancing act between a hands-on or hands-off approach. This is a challenge for all countries, and we are all here to tackle these challenges together,” he said.
This year’s GSR was chaired by Dr Kamal Shehadi, Chairman and CEO of TRA, the Lebanese regulator. In his opening remarks at the combined GILF/GSR opening on Monday 9 November, Dr Shehadi told participants that the deliberations of the global regulatory community can only be enriched by the active participation of the private sector.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of the private sector as a partner in constantly improving and fine-tuning ICT regulations through an open and transparent process of public consultations,” he said. He went on to outline the universal values guiding regulatory best practice: justice and fairness, equal treatment and non-discrimination, transparency, and the right to access. “These concepts change over time and are shaped by technology and by politics but also by crises. Today, as policy makers, regulators and the private sector gather in Beirut, it is important that we consider not only the challenge posed by the world financial and economic crises, but also the opportunity and the promise of better regulation,” he said.
While the financial crisis was a central topic of discussion, panelists participating in Session 2: Impact of the Financial Crisis on Regulation – Lessons Learned, moderated by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, were agreed that the economic downturn had largely spared the ICT sector, which continues to register steady, if slower, growth. One speaker noted that the crisis “is not a crisis of opportunity, but rather a crisis of funding caused by a crisis of regulation in the financial sector.”
Other key topics covered over the three-day event included consumer protection; universal access; IP interconnection; mobile termination rates; the challenges facing new market entrants; and voice over IP. Sessions featured much animated discussion between panelists and delegates, who actively shared experiences – successful and less successful – and worked cooperatively to help arrive at solutions to real-life problems raised during the meeting.
The Symposium also developed a new set of Best Practice Guidelines to help regulators around the world develop innovative strategies to meet the needs of a converged environment. The Guidelines focus on four key regulatory areas deemed essential to today’s fast-paced ICT marketplace: the need to promote convergence; to build stronger, more effective national regulatory institutions; to use regulation to stimulate ongoing market investment; and to promote innovative new services that can benefit consumers and help ‘connect the unconnected’.
As general principle, the Guidelines state that convergence is most likely to thrive in an environment which allows competition between broadband networks and infrastructure and service providers. They stress the importance of appropriate interconnection arrangements, the benefits of Next-Generation Network technologies, the need for flexible numbering, assignment and reservation regimes; the advantages of technology neutrality; the need to proactively promote the roll-out of broadband; and the growing importance of environmental considerations when deploying and using ICTs.
They also emphasize the key role that governments and regulators play in stimulating demand for ICT services and applications, and in overcoming connectivity challenges such as poor ICT literacy, cybersecurity concerns, lack of content in local languages, and insufficient availability of low-cost access devices. They encourage the development of innovative public private partnerships (PPPs), and the use of universal access/universal service mechanisms to connect underserved areas. They also suggest that governments consider using public funds to finance infrastructure roll-out in areas where private sector investment is insufficient.
In his closing remarks to delegates on Thursday, 12 November, BDT Director Sami Al Basheer said the outstanding success of this year’s GILF and GSR confirmed the meetings’ relevance to global ICT markets, and affirmed ITU’s central role as a platform for sharing knowledge and building consensus among diverse stakeholders. He thanked the TRA and Lebanese Ministry for their support in hosting this year’s event. “Lebanon has proved an extremely popular venue, attracting a record number of delegates,” he said. “Our hosts have surpassed all expectations in terms of their professionalism, their generosity, and the commitment they have show to this important event. Next year’s hosts will have their work cut out for them in matching the superb levels of organization and hospitality demonstrated throughout this highly successful event.”