By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist
Late in September, the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations agency responsible for information and communication technologies (ICT), wrapped up its 11th Global Symposium for Regulators in Armenia City, Colombia. The meeting is a periodic forum designed to help national regulatory authorities exchange information about deploying broadband technology within their own countries and internationally.
The topics discussed among the more than 500 participants went beyond broadband services, however, touching upon other regulatory issues such as mobile payments and e-waste. Many of the presenters’ conclusions correlate to the conclusions reached in other Connected Life Exchange posts — that is, that for international broadband deployment to succeed, there needs to be a concerted effort on multiple fronts, including governments, service providers, vendors, and local business leaders.
For instance, telecom expert Robert Horton, a former chairman of the ITU Telecommunications Advisory Group, emphasized governmental support in his presentation on Setting National Broadband Policies, Strategies and Plans.
He concluded, “A national broadband plan is as much a social contract as a call to develop an industry base. A plan needs to … address skill acquisition, training and competence to use the access. A plan should lead to a stronger foundation to the three pillars of effective government, private investment, and a more active citizenship.”
On the corporate side, Georgia Institute of Technology professor Michael L. Best discussed Innovation and Entrepreneurship: New Applications and Services Driving Future Growth. He postulated that there was a higher and more significant correlation between broadband penetration and patents — which he measured as innovation — than the deployment of other technologies, including phones and Internet.
On the service provider side, in his presentation on Open Access Regulation in the Digital Economy, David Rogerson, director of Incyte Consulting Ltd., stressed the importance of open access policy, noting that “in the digital economy the scale and scope of investment in national broadband networks means that these resources cannot be viably replicated.” But he also added, “The terms of open access must allow fair and equivalent access for all digital service providers, but they must also provide a reasonable rate of return for the infrastructure owner and manager.”
Strategies to Reach Digital Inclusion Goals
At the conference’s conclusion, the organizers issued best practice guidelines on regulatory approaches, developed from contributions from participants from 16 countries. They believe that these four strategies provide the best chance for advancing the deployment of broadband, encouraging innovation, and enabling digital inclusion for all. These encompass:
- Funding mechanisms for deploying broadband infrastructure, including leveraging of private-public partnerships, and modernizing universal service programs and funds.
- Fostering private investment in broadband through incentive regulation, through national policies, rationalizing licensing, making wireless spectrum available, removing barriers to build-out, and granting tax incentives.
- Stimulating innovation, through the creation and adoption of digital content, spurring research-and-development investment, and enforcing intellectual property rights.
- Expanding digital literacy, through education and knowledge transfer.
What’s truly exciting about the ITU’s collaborative efforts through conferences such as this one is the potential outcome. There has never been a technology developed with global deployment in mind. We’re still tripping over issues because different countries standardized on GSM and others on CDMA wireless technology.
Because countries are finally focusing their efforts on outcomes rather than technologies, the potential for unfettered communication, education, and even transactions has never been higher.