IGF workshop focuses on the role of regulatory frameworks in improving access to Internet
Recommendations developed by workshop participants focused on four main themes; enhancing the development of and access to infrastructure; enabling policies and financing frameworks; offering technological choice, responding to demand and addressing the challenge/opportunities of convergence; and advancing the development dimensions of ICT regulation.
Dr. Abiodun Jagun presented on ‘Widening ownership of and access to international backbone infrastructure.’ She spoke of the unique challenges faced by developing countries, which must focus on widening ownership and access to Internet infrastructure while maintaining, or in many cases developing, sound regulatory frameworks for the ICT sector.
Recommendations developed by the workshop participants focused on four main themes; enhancing the development of and access to infrastructure; enabling policies and financing frameworks; offering technological choice, responding to demand and addressing the challenge/opportunities of convergence; and advancing the development dimensions of ICT regulation.
In regards to enhancing development of and access to infrastructure, the workshop’s participants concluded that the reinforced monopolies surrounding access to international infrastructure must be addressed concretely, both in terms of access to physical infrastructure and in terms of the negative impact of prohibitive licensing regimes. Through stronger regulation and shared access and investment models, backbone infrastructure, both international and terrestrial, must be opened up. Further, the principle of ‘open access’ should be applied evenly to all areas of the telecom sector, in order to take advantage of the potential benefits of greater competition within the sector.
Over the course of the discussion of enabling policies and financing frameworks, it was agreed that the approach taken to regulation must be modified for rural areas. The application of ‘traditional urban-centric’ legal/regulatory frameworks – focused on competitive markets where consumers have choice – to rural areas where the ‘business models’, economic contexts, communication needs and appropriate technologies are different, is a short-sighted and inherently compromised strategy. In under-served (often rural) areas, regulators should recognize the importance of working with a diverse mix of network operators and providers. Licensing procedures must be simplified, the regulation and cost of interconnection must be addressed, and the use of VoIP and other new technologies should be promoted, all in a bid to widen and diversify access in rural areas.
More broadly, participants identified the need for a more economically and socially inclusive approach to telecom regulation – rather than a restricted, sector-focused perspective, ICTs should be seen as a critical part of the larger local development agenda. Similarly, the adoption of a multi-sector regulatory model that exploits the complementarities between different types of infrastructure (e.g. laying down roads, water canals, power and ICT cabling or use of power grid for enable ICT), would not only reduce infrastructure costs but would also contribute to a more effective use of universal access funds and/or scarce development resources. Competitive behaviour must be ‘incentivized’ in a manner that encourages the aggregation of demand and of financial and technical resources whilst fostering collaborative financing of infrastructure development.
In a bid to offer greater technological choice, mobile phones should be promoted as a viable technology for providing voice access to the Internet, as well as a variety of financial and e-governance services. Stakeholders should promote the creation of content, services and applications that meet local needs, for example financial content, services and applications. The potential of new generation community-driven networks as a platform for a variety of ICTs – cheap telephony, community-radio and Internet-based content, should also be explored. This option offers a potentially more economically sustainable framework by (i) helping to aggregate and foster demand (rather than only focusing on shared access) for a range of ICTs and services that can be provided on the platform and (ii) by being more responsive to current/changing community needs due to technological flexibility. Finally, the capacity of regulators must be built up, particularly in light of converging technologies that hold great opportunities for the delivery of services, but also introduce great challenges and complexity to the work of regulators.
Advancing the development dimensions of ICT regulation was the final goal identified by the workshop participants. Incentives that promote ICTs as a development tool, particularly at the level of rural/local access, should be promoted. Such incentives would not be restricted to a market-driven approach, but would locate ICT regulatory policy in the context of local development strategies. They would focus on the transformative aspects of ICTs in terms of local development opportunities, reorganization and enhanced viability of local enterprises, and the empowerment of stakeholders. In order to achieve the integration of ICTs and development agendas at the local level, the priority of ICTs in development (and investment) decision-making spaces must be emphasized, and public-private partnership models should be adopted.