Last week, I attended the 13th Global Symposium of Regulators (GSR13) in Warsaw, Poland. As it does each year, the event provided a great opportunity for discussions between industry and regulators on the latest developments in the communications industry and how we can continue growth of the digital economy for consumer benefit. Under the theme of “4th Generation regulation: driving digital communications ahead” participants examined the transformational nature of communications and the evolution to 4th generation ICT regulation in a connected society.
GSR13 was organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in collaboration with the Ministry of Administration and Digitalization and the Office of Electronic Communications (UKE). I’d like to especially thank Ms. Magdalena Gaj, President of UKE and Mr. Brahima Sonou, Director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, for hosting such a successful conference. The panel debates were lively, with audience interaction, and the breaks between panels were full of conversation as people from around the world discussed current important topics.
On another positive note, there was an increasing number of women leaders from both government and industry, taking part at GSR13. Although we have more opportunity for gender balance ahead, it was clear from the list of panelist and participants that more women are being named to leadership positions with national regulatory authorities, businesses and other organisations which is good news for our industry.
As an example, Lynne A. Dorward, a consultant at TMG who helped the ITU prepare for GSR13, presented a new study that provides analysis on Universal Service Funds (USF) around the world, during a panel discussion on “Maximising The Potential Of USF Through Successful Administration And Management.” Lynne’s study highlights that many USF’s are not focused on a defined goal, such as promoting availability of fixed or mobile broadband services and most support investment only in fixed voice networks. It also notes that many of the challenges facing USF’s today have to do with their inability to keep up with rapidly changing technologies.
Eric Loeb, AT&T’s Vice President for International External Affairs, also participated in that panel discussion on USF. Eric noted whenever we are going to collect or dedicate funds for universal service programs, the starting point needs to be a clear plan for the use of the fund, and the plan should align with the modern forward-looking policy priorities for a country. For example, if a country has a National Broadband Plan for fixed and mobile, then it should be a priority to overhaul the USF program to ensure it supports that plan. Eric observed that at present, most universal service programs around the world continue to focus on PSTN voice service, rather than IP fixed and mobile broadband service, so there is a great opportunity for advancing digital economy goals simply by re-aligning these funds.
This is one of many efforts of regulatory modernisation that policy makers can take to ensure that rules are creating incentives for investment in the IP networks of the future, rather than encouraging or requiring on-going investment in legacy copper networks. While doing this work to align universal service funds with broadband and digital inclusion strategy, countries should also look for other outmoded regulations that are working against their goals to encourage investment in broadband networks, both fixed and mobile.
There is tremendous opportunity to improve the digital economy if we reform and modernise regulatory models, including universal service funds. Customers and the entire industry benefit from regulatory models that don’t struggle to play catch-up with new technologies, but actively pave the way for them.