The session focused on how policies and actions to liberalise the communication sectors and to support better-functioning markets will accelerate the delivery of the goals set by WSIS Action Line 2. Among these goals, discussed were the possibility of creating a competitive environment; enhancing broadband infrastructure; delivering access for people with special requirements, and optimising connectivity among major information networks. The session was moderated by Mr Julian Braithwaite (Ambassador and Permanent Representative at the UK mission to the UN, UK) who started it by asking the panellists to provide the context in which their policymakers liberalised the telecommunication sector.
Mr Hamid Mamdouh (Senior Counsel, King & Spalding LLP, UK) stressed that the way telecommunication is regulated has been transformed over the last decade. In the old paradigm, telecom markets operated in a monopoly, and, for over 20 years, the sector has moved towards a competitive market. Private actors began providing telecommunication services in the 2000s. In the 1996 WTO negotiations, there was an impressive number of developing countries interested in signing the 3rd protocol of the GATTS to liberalise their national markets. Liberalisation of the sector was seen as extremely efficient for the quality of the services and their growth rate. Mr Mamdouh advocates that opening the markets means regulating more, and not less. The principles of independent regulators, transparent procedures and transparent fees are essential to the development of the sector. He concluded by remarking that with the digitalisation of the economy the challenges of regulating telecom services and the negotiations in WTO in this regard are magnified.
Ms Doreen Bogdan (Director at Development Bureau, International Telecommunication Union) addressed the need to talk about inclusiveness in the telecom sector. 10 years ago, only 25% of the world population was connected, today this number increased up to 50%. That was only possible because of telecom. Ms Bogdan insisted that inclusiveness is the key for connectivity: “we need to ensure that people have affordable access, and make sure that they have digital skills if we want them to take advantage of the digital economy”.
Ms Claudette Irere (Permanent Secretary, Rwanda Ministry of ICT & Innovation) was asked about the impact of liberalisation of the telecom market in Rwanda. She started by saying that before the 2000s Rwanda had a complete monopoly in the sector. After 2000, when the country started planning and revamping its policies, policymakers revised their institutional framework. It was imperative to put in place institutions to open the market: the first one was the regulator/facilitator. At that time, telecom law was only governing one institution. The country then reformed their law to include more actors and reform the telecom industry. In 2018, Rwanda had 2 telcommunications operating, but the government wants more businesses in. She concluded affirming that changing the law was important to have more operators. Many operators fear that the rural market is not attractive, but Rwanda is an example that creative solutions can create an interesting market for operators in rural areas.
Mr Tilmann Kupfer (Vice President, Trade & International Affairs, BT Group, UK) believes that regulators should be facilitators. The liberalisation of the telecom markets has brought benefits not only for companies, but also for the users. The BT Group has served private consumers and institutions. Their main objective is to ensure that data is delivered on time and consumers are protected against cyber-attacks. Mr Kupfer also considers that the level of data circulating in interconnected supply chains will explode in the next years, due to big data, IoT, 5G etc. This is a problem for the global economy that should be urgently addressed.
Mr Nikolaiski Ali (Telecommunication Authority, Trinidad and Tobago) noted that the liberalisation of their telecom market started 15 years ago. The aim of the government was to encourage investment in telecommunications and increase competition to reduce the price to the users. Currently, the government’s goal is to set to auction 2.5GHz spectrum to provide public broadband wireless access (BWA) in the third quarter of 2019; and set to grant access to all operators 700 MHz spectrum for BWA in 2020. His mission is to “foster a competitive ICT environment using competent, fair, transparent, forward-thinking and responsive approaches for the benefit of all”.
By Ana Maria Corrêa