Nº 6 2013 > Global Symposium for Regulators
Digital communications and regulation — World regulators and industry exchange views in Warsaw
"Fourth-Generation Regulation: Driving Digital Communications Ahead" was the theme of the 13th Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-13), organized by ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), in collaboration with Poland's Ministry of Digitization and the National Regulatory Authority Office of Electronic Communications (UKE).
The symposium, which took place in Warsaw from 3 to 5 July 2013, examined challenges that regulators face in a networked and converged world, where information and communication technologies (ICT) cut across virtually every sector of society and the economy. The first two days were dedicated to the Global Regulators-Industry Dialogue (GRID) with the private sector, while the third day was for regulators alone. The event attracted 664 participants from 131 countries.
The meeting opened with a message read on behalf of President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland, followed by keynote addresses from Houlin Zhao, ITU Deputy Secretary-General (on behalf of Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General) and Ms Magdalena Gaj, President of UKE and Chairman of GSR‑13.
Reading the message from President Komorowski, Olgierd Dziekonski, Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the President of Poland, said that the choice of Poland as the first country from the European Union to host the Global Symposium for Regulators was a sign of the significant changes that the country had made in recent years. ICT now account for 5 per cent of the Polish gross domestic product (GDP). The Internet is a global resource that allows GDP growth, as well as being a symbol of solidarity among all classes of the population and a tool for freedom, he concluded.
ITU estimates that by the end of 2013, there will be as many mobile cellular phones as there are people on the planet, and that some 2.7 billion people will be using the Internet. Mr Zhao highlighted this extraordinary progress in the ICT sector, noting that the challenge now is to do for the Internet and broadband what has been achieved so successfully in mobile communications. Two things need urgent action, he said. First, governments need to ensure that broadband stays at the top of the development agenda, so that roll-out is accelerated and the benefits are brought to as many people as possible. Second, Internet access — and especially broadband — should be made much more affordable than it is today. This is where GSR can play an important role. ”For the ICT industry, good regulation delivers predictability and stability. It reduces risk. It encourages investment in ICT infrastructure and rewards competition and innovative business models. At the same time, it protects consumers, by delivering a transparent marketplace and a fair system for resolving disputes,” Mr Zhao told participants.
Underlining the crucial role of regulators, Ms Gaj said their professional mission is to ensure that telecommunication services and, in particular, the Internet, are accessible to all. This access, she added, has to be considered a basic right, not a luxury. She stressed that regulators should work towards the common goal of enabling people of all continents and countries to enjoy the benefits of the global information society. To achieve that outcome, regulators need to adopt human-centric policies. ”Telecommunication networks are the lifeblood of the world’s economy. Living and working without a telephone, a computer or Internet access has become unimaginable,” said Ms Gaj, categorizing our human species that is increasingly dependent on mobile devices as ”homo smartphonus”. With only one-third of the world's population being connected to the Internet implies that nearly 4 billion people still live offline. Making this observation, Ms Gaj commented that ”If everyone had a chance to access the Internet, the benefits for the global economy would be incredible.”
So, today's broadband Internet services cannot be considered a luxury — they are a basic need for sustainable economic growth of the whole world. ”As regulators, we have duties — but also tools — to do everything to promote broadband Internet access in our societies. This cannot be successful without the cooperation of operators,” stressed Ms Gaj, explaining that dialogue with operators is necessary because next-generation networks require huge investment. ”It is not what we should do for the market, but what the market should do for people with our support. Just like synapses form information highways by building connections, we have to foster connections to coexist,” said Ms Gaj.
Poland itself is trying to develop solutions that suit the specific needs of the market, by proposing amendments to the law, carrying out analyses of broadband infrastructure and services, providing educational assistance to market players, and developing its own know-how based on the experience of other countries. ”That is why a partnership relation among all parties of the ecosystem — the market and regulator — is necessary and is a modern approach, most suitable in the 21st century”. Along with market supervision, regulators need to create demand for digital services. Often, the problem is the lack of awareness about the benefits that broadband brings. The latest report of the European Commission shows that only 2 per cent of Europeans buy broadband access with a capacity of 100 Mbit/s or faster. ”This is an alarmingly low rate”, she said. ”And it shows the staggering amount of work ahead of us.”
Building the future digital society
The opening debate took the form of an interactive session and was moderated by Brahima Sanou, Director of BDT, with keynote addresses from Michal Boni, Poland’s Minister of Administration and Digitization, and Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda.
Panellists in this session were Mignon Clyburn, Acting Chairwoman of the United States Federal Communications Commission; Mohammed Al Amer, Chairman of Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority; Anne Bouverot, Director General and Member of the Board of the GSM Association (GSMA), United Kingdom; John Davies, Member of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development; and Richard Allan, Facebook’s Director of Policy for EMEA.
Mr Sanou noted how the changes taking place in the sector and in our societies, led by broadband and Internet access, have profoundly altered individual and professional behaviour. In five years, the number of active mobile broadband subscriptions tripled, cellular mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants grew by one-third, and Internet users increased by one billion. Many new ICT services and applications can now be delivered over the same platforms, allowing users to experience an ever-expanding variety of services and applications to serve their information, communication and entertainment needs. Policy-makers and regulators are making efforts to keep abreast of the latest market trends with the aim of bringing ICT and the experience of the digital lifestyle to all. Fourth-generation regulation is required to drive these digital communications forward.
Mr Boni said that the global digital revolution requires open and comprehensive regulations to foster investment in new technologies and protect consumer rights. Managing the Internet does not mean limiting freedom of expression, although security is an essential aspect to be considered. Digital dilemmas that need to be discussed in ITU forums include building regulatory equilibrium to ensure privacy protection and a legal framework for processing data.
Open and smart models are needed for participatory democracy in the future society. Digital inclusion is one of the most important objectives, and the elderly should not be forgotten. Poland has launched the Poland of Equal Digital Opportunities project. It includes the Lighthouse Keepers of Digital Poland initiative, which encourages adults over 50 years old to join the digital age, with the help of local digital champions.
Panellists considered humility, research, collaboration, transparency and review as the five key characteristics of smart regulation. A collaborative multistakeholder approach is needed, along with partnerships and self-regulation, for example through codes of conduct.
Consumer protection and privacy are becoming ever more important as more and more people gain access to the Internet and share a lot of their personal information online. Consumer control is important, and privacy guidelines have been developed, but privacy may mean different things to different people. Individuals should decide what information they want to share publicly. The right to private correspondence is recognized, but how can correspondence stay private when governments have the power to violate privacy for reasons of security? Data protection is linked to the way organizations, both public and private, regulate their use of personal data. Regulation in these cases should be neutral and transparent.
On the broadband front, panellists agreed that part of the regulator’s mission is to ensure that citizens get affordable access wherever they live or work, as broadband services are rolled out around the world. According to the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, in 2009 one-third of countries worldwide had a broadband plan — this proportion has now reached two-thirds. New business models based on pre-paid broadband are emerging in countries in Africa and Asia. Universal service is being used to close the digital divide, and countries are now looking at ways to boost the use of applications. Broadband affordability is important — not only in developing countries. It was stressed that broadband should cost less than 5 per cent of average monthly income by 2015.
Participants noted that Bahrain has among the lowest prices for mobile broadband in the Arab States, with prices declining by as much as 63 per cent between 2011 and 2012. This result was achieved through a competitive economy that respects the principles of sustainability, competitiveness and fairness. Clearly, investment in broadband is needed to drive productivity. Other steps taken in Bahrain to extend broadband include moving to a supportive regulatory framework and from ex ante to ex post regulation, fostering enhanced and inter-platform competition, ensuring quality of service through regulation, and making market information available so that consumers can make informed decisions. Speakers commented that the mobile phone gender gap needs to be addressed.
Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, who gave the closing keynote address, said that seeing so many people from across the globe facing up to the challenge of a changing world reminded her that Europe needs to act strategically, with an eye not to yesterday's powers — but to tomorrow's opportunities.
In Europe, businesses operate across multiple sites and multiple countries, so regulation must adapt and respond. Ms Kroes commented that Europe, which was once the home of huge innovation in the telecommunication market, was sliding behind. But new legislative proposals are in the pipeline to bring down barriers, so that operators will find it easier to run services across borders. The European Commission, she said, is seeking a more consistent legal framework for operating across borders, more consistent products for access to fixed networks, and spectrum that is more aligned across the continent. ”I want people — and businesses — to enjoy the best Europe has to offer, wherever they are, without artificial barriers. This means, with more consistent protections and quality of service; with a clear guarantee of net neutrality — one that allows innovative new services to grow; with a fair deal in Internet services, transparency and genuine choice; and with fairer prices. After all, a single market should mean seamless service. And that means no more unjustified, unfairly high prices, wherever you roam in Europe,” Ms Kroes underlined.
The networked world needs strong support from regulators. ”A digital society needs the right balance of stability and flexibility, investment and innovation, competition and choice. The right regulation can definitely deliver the right balance. And equally, regulators can shake up markets, so they correspond to new, digital realities” stressed Ms Kroes, concluding that regulation should focus only on areas where it is needed, while the load elsewhere should be lightened. ”That is all the more important at the moment, when our priority is not just opening up access to existing networks, but to create new ones — a transition that requires significant investment. Let's do our jobs — but let's also give the market its proper responsibility, to innovate and progress.”
In the nine sessions that followed the opening ceremony and debate, panellists and participants examined smart opportunities in traditional, as well as in new areas, as follows:
- Session I: Looking for spectrum?
- Session II: Are standards the crux of ICT businesses in today’s digital world?
- Session III: Financial debate: Infrastructure 4.0 and beyond: How to attract investment and secure funds
- Session IV: Maximizing the potential of universal service funds through successful administration and management — Addressing the missing link
- Session V: Digital transactions in today’s smart society
- Session VI: A world of data: The need for more IP addresses
- Session VII: Moving to the next level: New apps and new delivery platforms
- Session VIII: 4th generation regulation
- Session IX: National broadband interconnection charging.
Summaries of the discussions in these sessions are contained in the GSR‑13 Chairman’s report, available at: http://www.itu.int/osg/gsr13/report/. This issue of ITU News features summaries of two of the sessions namely, ”Maximizing the potential of universal service funds through successful administration and management — Addressing the missing link” and ”Moving to the next level: New apps and new delivery platforms”. Other session summaries will be published in future editions of the magazine.