The 8th annual Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-08) was chaired by General Choochart Promphrasid, Chairman of the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) in Pattaya, Thailand. GSR-08 was organized by the International Telecommunication Union in collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) and NTC of Thailand.
Around 600 participants from 96 countries attended the Symposium, indicative of the high level of interest in the work of regulatory authorities around the world in spurring ICT and telecommunications development. Among 149 regulatory authorities worldwide, GSR-08 hosted the oldest — from the United States — and the latest newcomer — from Laos.
Regulatory reforms over the past decade have led to unprecedented take-up of mobile telephony, especially in developing countries. Yet, much of the world’s population remains without voice services and very few people in the developing world have access to broadband Internet.
“Innovative business models and services are helping to drive the take-up of mobile communications in emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Africa and the Americas,” said Dr Hamadoun Tour, Secretary-General of ITU. “Pro-competitive and open access strategies are needed to cut the cost of deploying ICT networks — and thus take a big step towards achieving the targets set by the World Summit on the Information Society as well as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.”
Dr Tour said that sound regulatory frameworks would establish the enabling environment for telecommunications and ICT development and help meet the connectivity targets. At a news conference in Pattaya, Dr Tour said that the connectivity targets must in fact be advanced to 2012 if we are to utilize the catalytic potential of ICT to help meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Global regulators share best practices
Steered by NTC Commissioner Sethaporn Cusripituck, GSR-08 today found consensus on a set of best practice guidelines aimed at fostering affordable broadband access through innovative infrastructure sharing and open access strategies related to:
- efficient use of resources
- spectrum sharing
- neutral, fair and non-discriminating interconnection
- transparency in information sharing
sharing with other infrastructure industries, such as electricity, gas, water, sewage, railways to distribute the cost of civil works
Looking at the value of sharing best practices, Kevin Martin, Chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said, “Within the ITU and within our agencies we have been grappling with the best ways to achieve affordable access to communications. This Symposium provides us with an opportunity to share experiences as regulators facing common challenges.”
Six Degrees of Sharing
The theme of the Symposium: Six Degrees of Sharing: Innovative Infrastructure Sharing and Open Access Strategies to Promote Affordable Access for All emphasizes
- Basic and Passive infrastructure sharing
- Open access to international capacity
- Business-sharing regulation
- Active infrastructure sharing
- End-user sharing
- Policy and regulatory harmonization
Regulators also recognized the need for regional and international harmonization to ensure widespread use of best practice regulatory policies on sharing, especially in areas dealing with cross-border effects.
Mr Ernest Ndukwe, Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said, “The liberalization of the international gateway creates a win-win situation for the national ICT market. The Nigerian experience has shown that after the full liberalization of the international gateway in 2006, fixed-line rates dropped by 90 per cent, traffic increased considerably and revenues for international call operators have grown.”
In order to encourage universal access and bridge the so-called ‘digital divide’, regulators will consider incentives for service providers who share infrastructure, including financial subsidies on a competitive basis.
India to connect every village by 2010 with 500 million subscribers
Referring to the Indian experience, where the aim is to double the number of subscribers to 500 million by 2010, Chairman of the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRAI) Nirpendra Misra said, “Sharing is key to promoting ICT access at affordable prices in rural areas” and recommended that both passive and active mobile and backhaul infrastructure sharing be encouraged. “Operators will automatically receive subsidies for the deployment and management of towers, funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), as long as operators share the towers with three other operators or service providers.” Speaking at a Press conference, Mr Misra said rural India is in for a telecommunication explosion as every village with a population over 2000 would be hooked up with individual fixed or mobile phones. Recognizing that the start-up price for rural subscribers would be too high, he said taxation would be brought down on handsets along with a 50 per cent reduction of contributions to the USOF.
This is in line with the recommendations of the Global Industry Leaders’ Forum (GILF) which met on 10 March, ahead of GSR-08, in the first-ever interaction between industry and regulators:
- Surplus funds raised through levies, such as Universal Service Funds running into billions of dollars, should be used to extend ICT access to underserved regions
- Support infrastructure sharing
- Stimulate investment by reducing taxes, tariffs and duties on handsets and telecom equipment
- Release unused spectrum for productive and innovative commercial applications and services
- Strengthen emergency communications by harmonizing rules and regulations to facilitate transborder relief efforts as outlined in the Tampere Convention; explore feasibility of a single global emergency call-in number
The high-level platform for industry leaders led to an interactive exchange with regulators and policy-makers, covering issues related to universal access and rural connectivity, emergency telecommunications as well as stimulating business investment and expansion.
“It is difficult to predict what the communications landscape will look like twenty-five, ten or even five years from now,” said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. “But I am confident that we will see the trend toward mobility continue to evolve and mature.” He said cell phones are mini-computers which send e-mail, take pictures, surf the web, and play songs and videos. “And perhaps more importantly, as shown in the recent floods in Bangladesh, send emergency messages to warn of impending danger,” Mr Martin added.
End user sharing — where multiple users share the same handset or computer — was also explored during GSR-08. General Manzurul Alam, Chairman, Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, talking about the success of the renowned Grameen phone Village Phone Ladies’ programme, explained the impact of end-user sharing on empowering women. “Women who re-sell mobile air time to poor rural users earn above-average incomes in Bangladesh. When married women begin their careers as Village Phone Ladies, they offer their monthly take to senior family members, with whom they often have difficult relationships. Over time, the Village Phone women earn the respect of their family members, and one result is a reduction in domestic violence,” General Alam said.
At the closing session of GSR-08, Mr Sami Al Basheer, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau awarded the G-REX certificates to its most active users: the regulatory authorities of Costa Rica, Hong Kong (China), Pakistan, Peru, Lithuania, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan and Venezuela. G-REX is an interactive online platform maintained by ITU for the benefit of regulators to exchange information and best practices.