Nº 6 2013 > Global Symposium for Regulators
The evolving roles of regulation and regulators in a digital environment
The 13th Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR‑13) held in Warsaw, Poland, from 3 to 5 July 2013, ended with the adoption of best-practice guidelines on the evolving roles of regulation in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector that is experiencing tremendous change. Leading the change are the next-generation broadband networks being rolled out and facilitating convergence of media, new market players, rapid development of smart devices, the connectivity of things (Internet of things) and people, and the growing consumer demand for always-on, ubiquitous access to ICT. Meanwhile, the arrival of new content and application providers, such as over-the-top (OTT) players, is changing the rules of the game and business practices. Add to this mix the sharp increase in data flow, rapid development of cloud services and new mobile applications, and you have truly complex ICT markets challenging the traditional role and mandate of the regulator.
Spreading the word
Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, nominated Magdalena Gaj, President of Poland’s National Regulatory Authority Office of Electronic Communications (UKE), as Ambassador for the GSR‑13 best practice guidelines. In that role, Ms Gaj will bring these guidelines to the attention of all appropriate forums.
The guidelines, highlighted below, set out the basis for ”regulation 4.0”. They emphasize that market players should be treated equally, and advocate ”light-touch” regulation that does not impose an extra burden on operators or service providers. They foresee an expanded role for regulators, not only in stimulating service uptake, but also more generally in working towards the good of society as a whole, for example by preventing social exclusion. Finally, the guidelines focus on regulatory structure, pointing out that a changing and converging market calls for an innovative regulatory response.
Equal treatment of market players
Regulators have a critical role to play in ensuring the smooth development of the ICT sector to spur sustainable economic and social development.
In a converged environment, it is important to assess market situations in order to spot operators with significant market power and stimulate competition. Ensuring that the principles of fair, equal and non-discriminatory treatment continue to prevail will foster a level-playing field among all market players, regulated and unregulated.
Eliminating barriers to new entrants and ensuring healthy competition among players (operators, Internet providers, over-the-top providers, and so on) is one way of promoting the roll-out of next-generation broadband networks, and access to online applications and services. Regulators can also encourage network and facility sharing through soft measures such as cross-sectoral mapping of infrastructure, enabling civil works to be coordinated. Empowering consumers to make informed decisions through the development of online tools to check speed, quality of service and price of access is a soft measure that regulators may take to foster competition.
Regulators need to ensure that unused or underused spectrum is rapidly made available, and that rules to manage interference are in place. Consideration may be given to a new generation of auctions or allocations, or permitting flexible use of spectrum. By leveraging the ”digital dividend” spectrum, the footprint of mobile broadband access can be extended, while ”white spaces” can be made available for unlicensed use, enabling broadband services.
Terrestrial broadcasting needs to be maintained in servicing the population. Adopting administratively simplified and flexible models such as general authorizations or unified licences, where appropriate, can contribute to facilitating market entry and stimulate competition and innovation.
The use of traffic management techniques should be monitored to ensure that these techniques do not unfairly discriminate between market players. Regulators also need to review existing competition laws and regulations to determine whether measures such as equal treatment of players are in place to address net neutrality.
Regulators need to understand all parameters at play in a digital environment to ensure affordability of access and a sufficient level of quality of service to the user, without putting an extra burden on operators and service providers.
The 4th generation regulator needs to adopt a ”light-touch” approach, calling for regulatory intervention only when necessary, while ensuring that market forces work without constraints and towards innovation within the prescribed national legal environment. Regulators should continue to ensure regulatory predictability and foster co-regulation (for example, voluntary standards) wherever possible, facilitating the adoption of a regulatory solution collectively developed and administered by the regulator and the industry.
Regulators should work with other interested stakeholders to reduce or remove barriers to broadband infrastructure roll-out. Regulation should ensure the sustainable development of the ICT sector that is essential to attracting the investment needed in a global digital environment.
Stimulating service uptake
Stimulation of service uptake and access to online services and applications requires flexible regulatory approaches. Governments should work collaboratively with all stakeholders — and in particular with the industry and regulators — to facilitate and support the development of infrastructure and provision of services, particularly in rural, un-served and underserved areas.
From the supply side, predictable and stable regulations are needed to maintain effective competition and drive the development of innovative services. In particular, regulators should modernize universal service programmes to extend broadband to the un-served and underserved, notably through a redefinition of the scope of universal service.
From the demand side, measures such as deferring or altogether discouraging heavy or special taxes on ICT equipment and services, encouraging research and development, and endorsing special programmes to stimulate e‑literacy will result in higher penetration, increased demand and better social inclusion, and contribute to national economic growth. Governments and regulators have a key role to play in promoting and increasing awareness of the use and benefits of ICT.
The regulator has a critical role to play in advising governments when preparing policies on development and social inclusion. Regulators can also act as a partner for ICT development and social inclusion by facilitating (and sometimes creating) partnerships with aid-donors, governments, ministries and non-governmental organizations, in particular to meet universal access goals for rural, remote and unserved areas and for people with special needs.
Regulators can establish partnerships with schools and local communities through projects that would improve the connectivity of such schools and communities and enhance their use of ICT applications. Regulators may also use voluntary, strategic partnerships to bring comprehensive (for example, connectivity, literacy training and equipment) solutions to low-income consumers, and to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to new broadband technology, applications and services.
To encourage uptake, governments and regulators may facilitate access to low-cost hand-held broadband-enabled mobile devices, allowing citizens to access web applications.
Reactive autonomous regulators
As new technologies and services emerge and converge, governments may consider establishing converged regulatory institutions or adapting their structure to reflect the changes in ICT markets. Furthermore, to respond to the transnational and interconnected nature of the converged digital ecosystem, there is a need to make regulatory structures more reactive and flexible.
To perform their role in encouraging innovation, future growth and sustainable development, regulators need to be granted sufficient flexibility and autonomy in decision-making and in enforcing legal and regulatory instruments. There is a need for regulators and their staff to keep abreast of the latest technical developments to address matters such as Internet Protocol (IP) interconnection and charging mechanisms, and IPv4 to IPv6 transition.
Regulators have a role to play in building consumer trust and protecting security of services by appropriately addressing data protection, privacy issues and cybersecurity matters. This could be done by strengthening cooperation with other government agencies at the national level, and by collaborating with other regulators and other partners at the regional and international levels. Regulators are encouraged to make available online both sector information and the smart regulatory approaches they have adopted.
The full text of the guidelines is available at: http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Conferences/GSR/Pages/GSR13-Consultation.aspx