The 2012 edition of ITU’s flagship regulatory report ‘Trends in Telecommunication Reform’, released today, highlights the vital importance of a solid national regulatory framework in accelerating broadband roll-out and stimulating the development of new digital goods and services.
Subtitled ‘Smart Regulation for a Broadband World’, this year’s report sheds light on the often complex legal and regulatory issues now emerging as broadband becomes pervasive and increasingly serves as a driving force for the development of other economic sectors.
Over the past five years, fixed broadband subscriptions have more than doubled to reach an estimated 591-million in early 2012 – yet a huge divide remains between the developed and developing worlds.
Fixed broadband penetration of 26% in industrialized countries contrasts dramatically with penetration of just 4.8% in developing nations. Affordability remains a major obstacle, particularly in Africa, where fixed broadband access costs on average three times monthly per capita income.
ITU figures indicate that the number of active social media users has now surpassed one billion, many of whom connect using their mobile devices. But statistics on mobile broadband penetration reveal that only an estimated 8.5% of the population in developing countries had access to mobile broadband services in 2011, with nearly half of all broadband-enabled phones used in a handful of high-income countries, and low-income countries accounting for just 5% of global use.
As the broadband revolution unfolds, the report shows that large segments of the world’s population are steadily being left behind. Over five billion people have still never experienced even low-speed Internet, or have only experienced it through public or shared access.
At the same time, the advent of apps and new devices like tablet computers is generating a tidal wave of data traffic, pushing the capacity of existing networks to the limit at a time when so-called Over-the-Top (OTT) services like cloud computing and online shopping are compromising telcos’ incentive to fund costly additional network roll-out.
And finally, a host of emerging issues such as how to protect intellectual property rights (IPRs), how to deal ecologically with the growing mountain of e-waste, and how preserve the right to privacy over social networks are further stretching the current remit and resources of ICT regulators.
Snapshot of ICT regulatory trends worldwide
When it comes to provision of traditional telecommunication services, high-speed networks are already challenging old paradigms like open access and ways of financing universal access and universal service.
Over the past two decades, the scope of universal service and universal access (UAS) has broadened, with UAS increasingly being re-conceptualized to include Internet – and even broadband. Funding that previously focused on supply-side interventions – networks and facilities – is now increasingly being channelled to interventions that will stimulate demand.
But broadband is also profoundly altering models in other economic sectors, such as the provision of financial services like m-banking and the protection of original content. As markets evolve, that could mean important new roles for ICT regulators. In recent years, a growing number of traditional telecoms regulators have seen their mandate expand to include information technology and broadcasting. More recently, complex cybersecurity, privacy and environmental concerns have all come to the fore, and these are now being joined by issues related to the surge in use of evolving online applications and services.
The huge volume of data generated by fixed and mobile broadband applications means that most countries are now facing a critical ICT infrastructure deficit. Given the importance of broadband to each country’s ongoing development, this deficit is fast becoming a major public policy issue requiring the formulation of new cross-sectoral broadband policy frameworks. Encouragingly, over 130 governments have today adopted or are planning to adopt a national policy, strategy or plan to promote broadband.
“Ensuring investment and innovation without stifling competition is the key challenge today’s ICT regulators face,” said ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré. “In order for all citizens to benefit from the economic growth driven by broadband, huge and sustained investments in networks are needed. This report looks at how regulators could help, and what innovative regulatory measures might be able to achieve.”
Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2012 offers guidance to policymakers and regulators in creating a digital environment conducive to growth – both of the ICT sector and of the broader economy. What should be included in a national broadband plan? What measures can be adopted to help ensure a level playing field among operators? Where are public funds needed – and how should these be used in a manner consistent with principles of open access? How can end-users be protected from cyber-hazards? And how can we promote the appropriate use of shared content to protect intellectual property rights and copyright issues?
“The advent of broadband technology has significantly changed the way we communicate, access information, share experiences and knowledge, and engage in business transactions. Broadband is revolutionizing our social, political, and commercial interactions. It is an enabler of innovation and a driver for dynamic economies,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, which produces the annual Trends in Telecommunication Reform report as a key output of the Global Symposium for Regulators conference it organizes each year.
“I strongly believe that broadband should be regarded as part of a country’s critical infrastructure . . . congruent with its level of importance, well-articulated broadband strategies and plans are now needed to ensure that all citizens get to benefit from new applications, services, and business that the broadband world helps bring into being.”
The most comprehensive study available on the current state of regulatory frameworks and technological developments worldwide, the report opens with a concise overview of the trends reshaping the ICT landscape and then, chapter by chapter, delves in depth into key areas such as national broadband policy, strategies and plans; open access regulation and strategies for financing universal broadband access; broadband enabled innovation; social media; m-banking; intellectual property rights; and e-waste.