For about 75 years up to the sixties, nearly all telecommunications services in the country were in private hands, distributed among hundreds of local operators. Telephony authorizations were issued and controlled by the state governments. In this process Companhia Telefônica Brasileira (CTB, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Brazilian Traction) emerged as a major operator of local and long-distance services in the majority of the larger Brazilian cities, covering about 80% of the telephone terminals in the country. CTB shared the market in these cities with Companhia Telefônica Nacional, CTN, an ITT3 subsidiary. The remaining cities and towns were covered by small local operators in extremely precarious situations.
Most communications policies around the globe have been developed on models based on the economic, political and social realities of North America and Europe – which assume large private companies build expansive national wired infrastructures. So laws and regulations have evolved with the understanding that these wired networks are the main communication infrastructure and that wireless networks connect through them. But wired networks do not exist in many developing countries and do not necessarily need to be built.
“Open spectrum is important because access is important” says Steve Song, telecommunications fellow at the Shuttleworth Foundation in an interview with APCNews. But in South Africa, the problem is not lack of access – it’s that access is not affordable. Freeing up wireless spectrum, such as television white spaces —the space between channels— or making more information available on spectrum that is currently not in use could help to make affordable access a reality. Song is the author of a new country survey report commissioned by APC in which he explores how spectrum is currently managed in South Africa, and the barriers that are blocking availability.
As one of the world’s fastest growing economies and with over 65% of its billion-plus population under 35, India has huge potential. But according to a new report by Shyam Ponappa, commissioned by APC the current model for managing spectrum in India could be a huge barrier to the country’s economic and social development. Instead, he suggests that “it would be much more conducive to a sound economy…to have two to three main operators as we do with the provision of utilities.
Spectrum management and regulation is the collective responsibility of more than one body in India. There are different bodies handling spectrum licensing, regulation, pricing, and the levy of penalties; some bodies have only an advisory role.
The spectrum both surrounds us and passes through us. Made up of waves of energy that allow us to communicate the way we do today – through radio, television, mobile phones, wireless internet and more — spectrum is an invisible common link that ties our societies together. A global shift in spectrum regulation is currently under way with regulatory reforms being developed and proposed in several countries. As the internet and wireless communication increasingly merge into a singular form of communication, we will be presented with unique opportunities to adapt to open, trusting and collaborative forms of regulation and technology use. This introduction to developing a policy on open spectrum by spectrum expert Evan Light for APC, breaks down what spectrum is, how it works and why governments with under-served communities stand to gain so much from opening up the spectrum to more users and uses.
Nigeria is arguably one of the leading countries in Africa with respect to spectrum deregulation and licensing. However while the country follows best practices on the telecommunications side, the process for allocating broadcasting licenses and frequencies lacks transparency and is still dependant on Presidential approval. As the two regulatory bodies prepare to merge to form a single entity, Nigeria to reconsider how it allocates broadcasting licenses, says Fola Odufuwa, ICT expert and author of a new APC report on spectrum management in Nigeria.
Currently, about 20 million Kenyans own mobile phones. Mobile phones receive their signals over electromagnetic waves that are also used for everything from home appliances like microwave ovens and remote controls, to the radio and internet. These waves are assigned different frequencies or spectrum so that they don’t interfere with each other. However Kenya is at risk of running out of spectrum because of an outdated spectrum allocation framework and a disaster in day-to-day communications and the security of countless services is waiting to happen. A new study by Muriuki Mureithi commissioned by the APC proposes a solution.
APC’s open spectrum initiative aims to provide an understanding of spectrum regulation by examining the situation in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The timely research coincides with the rapid growth of wireless and mobile in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and raises fresh questions about the use of spectrum and the policies that govern it. The research looks at how spectrum is assigned, who assigns it, and what policy or regulatory framework they use.