Nº 4 2015 > Global Symposium for Regulators

15th Global Symposium for Regulators

ITU's flagship regulatory event, the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-15), took place on 9-11 June in Libreville, Gabon, and welcomed over 400 senior policy-makers from the world’s information and communication technology (ICT) regulators and leading tech firms.

15th Global Symposium for Regulators15th Global Symposium for Regulators

ITU's flagship regulatory event, the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-15), took place on 9-11 June in Libreville, Gabon, and welcomed over 400 senior policy-makers from the world’s information and communication technology (ICT) regulators and leading tech firms.

The event was co-hosted by Gabon’s Autorité de Régulations des Communications Electroniques et des Postes (ARCEP) under the patronage of H.E. President Ali Bongo Ondimba, with the theme, ‘Mind the Digital Gap — Regulatory Incentives to Achieve Digital Opportunities’. Chaired by ARCEP President Lin Mombo, the packed programme addressed key topics facing regulators today, including: mobile payments; network sharing models; taxation; the ‘Internet of Everything’; regulation and broadband uptake; and ways in which regulation can help promote accessibility for all.

GSR-15 also featured a lively pre-event programme hosted by partners including the GSMA and the Global VSAT Forum, along with a well-attended meeting of Chief Regulatory Officers from industry and representatives from regulators. This pre-event programme discussed the priorities in harmonizing cross-regional frameworks, as well as mechanisms to adopt relevant, flexible, and measurable policies and tools to enhance  supply  and demand-side investment strategies for creating an optimal regulatory environment. It also debated how to foster private sector investment, competition and innovation in  boosting access to broadband.

High-level patronage

The GSR-15 opening ceremony on 9 June welcomed a number of distinguished guests, including: Séraphin Moundounga, Gabon’s Minister of Justice; Pastor Ngoua N'Neme, Minister for the Digital Economy and Posts; Jean-Francois Ndongou, President of the National Council and of Communication; as well as Abdoulkarim Soumaila, Secretary-General of the African Telecommunication Union (ATU). The Chair of GSR-15, Mr Lin Mombo, praised the Government of Gabon for undertaking a vast programme for the roll-out and upgrading of infrastructure and broadband in order to achieve full connectivity of the country in the near future.

In his opening remarks to delegates, the Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), Brahima Sanou, noted that “all countries need a solid base of ICT infrastructure, as well as appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks to foster investment and innovation”.

The Leadership Debate on ‘Funding an Inclusive Digital Society – from Infrastructure to Data’ featured a panel with Lin Mombo; Bocar Ba, CEO, SAMENA Telecommunications Council; and Christian de Faria, CEO and Managing Director of Airtel Africa.

ITU’s Kemal Huseinović set the tone by reminding the audience that 2.3 billion people still live outside 3G coverage zones – a level of ‘digital exclusion’ unacceptable in today’s world. Airtel’s Mr de Faria underlined the need for independent regulation, with fair and transparent rules applied equally to all players: “Right now there is an uneven playing field, with OTT players subject to different rules and operators seen as cash cows. Continued investment in infrastructure requires a supportive regulatory framework.”

SAMENA’s Mr Ba spoke about the oncoming revolution of the Internet of Things (IoT), which will create “a very complex digital future”, and urged all players to focus on a common goal – best serving customers. In the ensuing discussion, the audience asked whether regulators needed to consider adopting a regional approach to OTT regulatory issues: “A single country cannot solve all the issues on its own, so there is a need for a critical mass of regulators to negotiate with operators. Such networks could be achieved through regional organizations,” ventured Mohammad Al Taani, CEO of TRC, Jordan. Mr Sanou closed the debate by urging all players to strive towards an enabling environment founded on mutual trust that will help build and maintain resilient and affordable infrastructure for all.

In the session on Innovative Investment Strategies, Steve Collar, CEO of O3, stressed that consumers just want affordable, reliable connectivity – the type of infrastructure is unimportant. Facebook Africa’s Ebele Okobi emphasized the multi-stakeholder nature of today’s networks, telling the audience “every player has a role in the ecosystem…those who create demand [for services] also create opportunities for operators.”

The ensuing Mobile Payment debate explored the regulatory implications of digital financial services. Panelists agreed that m-payments are on the verge of becoming a universally accepted means of conducting day-to-day business and a vital enabler of financial inclusion and a tool for empowerment, particularly for women. The panelists – representing regulators, telecom providers, donors and associations – discussed the roles of different stakeholders in this emerging ecosystem.

Dynamic dialogue and diverse views

Speaking to the audience on the morning of Day Two, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao emphasized the need for a strong and flourishing ICT ecosystem to meet socio-economic development targets, including the new Sustainable Development Goals. He also stressed the importance of nurturing ICT-focused small and medium -sized enterprises, which can leverage strong global demand to become major contributors to the national economy. “Given the right tools and encouragement, today’s youngsters can become tomorrow’s ICT entrepreneurs, creating tech start-ups and providing the ICT skills that can help countries grow a flourishing new business community of small- and medium-sized enterprises focused on ICT goods and services,” said Mr Zhao.

The session on Models for Network Sharing began with a strong and informative presentation by Malcolm Webb of WebbHenderson. “To share or not to share – that is the question!” quipped moderator Marufu Antony Chigaazira, with panelists agreeing that some form of sharing is inevitable, given the pressure for rapid roll-out of new services and high costs of infrastructure proving a common barrier. Mike Jensen of Association for Progressive Communications (APC) made the practical point that accurately mapping all infrastructure was essential to any effective sharing strategy.

Next was a compelling session on the complex issue of Taxation in the Digital Economy, led by Professor Raul Katz of the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information. Panelists grappled with the need to balance tax on manufacturers and operators with the need to make devices and services as affordable as possible. Moderator Serge Essongue of ARCEP noted the disparities between tax regimes for traditional telcos and newer OTT players, some of which are avoiding heavy tax burdens. Panelists agreed that any rebalancing nonetheless needed to protect services offered by OTTs, which, in the developing world in particular, are often the main user platform driving network traffic. The need for governments to put something back is a key priority: “Taxes collected from ICT goods and services should be used to develop each country’s ICT sector,” said Cynthia Reddock-Downes of TTAT, Trinidad and Tobago.

Another session addressed challenges of the emerging IoT. The increasingly interconnected world of IoT is removing physical barriers, yet regulatory regimes are still fragmented along old lines, panelists said. Shiv Bakhshi, Vice-President at Ericsson, urged African regulators to harmonize frameworks to drive service roll-out: “Like Europe, you have a market of hundreds of millions of people – but unfortunately also a market with dozens of different – and sometimes conflicting – sets of rules.”

A fascinating presentation by Professor Urs Gasser of Harvard University outlined the ways interoperability can be used to promote consumer choice, avoid lock-in, and spur innovation and competition. “Different approaches to interop offer a rich set of tools for ICT regulators – the challenge is to identify the best tool for each job,” he said, urging regulators to strive for “optimum, not maximum” interoperability.

A privileged space for expert debate

‘Regulators’ Day’ kicked off with a special session on promoting e-accessibility, and a closing debate on how smart regulation can facilitate m-services and applications. The final session examined how regulatory frameworks can drive broadband uptake, featuring panelists from Cambodia, Costa Rica and Switzerland.

The adoption of the GSR-15 Best Practice Guidelines concluded an exceptionally successful symposium, with a Closing Ceremony presided over by GSR-15 Chair Lin Mombo, BDT Director Brahima Sanou, and Pastor Ngoua N’Neme, Gabon’s Minister for the Digital Economy and Posts.

“Today, ICT is a strategic sector in the creation and distribution of national wealth, and contributes significantly to the improvement of socio-economic activity in Gabon,” said Minister Ngoua N’Neme. “I reaffirm the commitment and will of my Government to support and assist the ITU in its mission to connect the world.”


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