Trends in Telecommunication Reform is ITU’s flagship regulatory report. Published annually, it is widely recognized as the definitive yearly snapshot of the global regulatory environment. With a focus on ‘Transnational Aspects of Regulation in a Networked Society’, the 2013 report reveals an increasingly complex and interlinked legal and regulatory environment in which decisions taken in one jurisdiction can have a major impact on neighboring or distant markets.
At the launch of this year’s report, an ITU webinar was held on Thursday April 18. The event featured two of the organization’s regulatory experts, who introduced the report’s findings and answered questions submitted by online participants.
Citing the report, Nancy Sundberg, Senior Programme Officer in the Regulatory & Market Environment Division, described ICT networks as “the backbone of modern services from banking and commerce to public services like education and health care.”
With governments now acknowledging the vitally important role of technology in building national prosperity and international competitiveness, ICT regulation has risen on the list of national priorities in countries across the globe. With 160 countries having now set up independent ICT regulatory agencies, the challenge now is to find ways of managing increasingly complex, trans-border markets. Future ICT policies, she explained, will need to focus on consumer needs and concerns, such as increasing transparency, and the industry will have to accommodate services consumer behavior in mind.
“It is clear that the game is changing,” said Mario Maniewicz, Chief of the Infrastructure, Enabling Environment and E-Applications Department. “While domestic regulatory policies are important in creating a level playing field for national competitors, regulators also need to take a broader transnational perspective. National networks are vital, but so too is strong international connectivity. Regionally harmonized spectrum policy can greatly assist in fostering strong mobile growth, as we now move toward mobile broadband.”
Major topics covered in depth in this year’s report include net neutrality, emerging spectrum policy management models, mobile roaming prices, global and regional IP connection, and the challenges and opportunities raised by widespread adoption of cloud services.
The net neutrality debate continues to be muddied by the fact that no definition of the term is yet agreed among regulators. Some recommendations are made about what types of traffic management are acceptable, and what types could be considered uncompetitive. “The main issue now concerning net neutrality is to ensure that service providers do not downgrade some traffic by using traffic management practices that consumers may not be aware of,” Sundberg added. “This can ensure access to the internet for everyone under reasonable terms and conditions.”
Maniewicz pointed out that, in the area of spectrum policy, the constant pressure on spectrum availability caused by the mobile boom continues, with a prediction of an 18-fold growth in mobile traffic between 2011 and 2015, driven by machine-to-machine communications, ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) services like VoIP, and new types of cloud service. He identified two key measures, expected to prevail until the next World Radio Communication Conference in 2015: spectrum management best practices and spectrum licensing.
Current spectrum management best practices include re-farming, re-use, and liberalization of current management frameworks. To ensure that frequencies are put to their most efficient and highest-value use, spectrum licensing is increasingly moving toward market-based policies such as auctions, in-band migration, spectrum sharing and spectrum trading, to supplement or even supplant older, slower bureaucratic processes.
Mobile roaming charges were a key issue during the recent update of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) in Dubai in December 2012. At present, retail prices for international mobile roaming remain high, have no linkage to domestic mobile prices, and do not reflect the actual cost of delivering the service, explained Maniewicz. Empowering consumers through greater pricing transparency is one suggested remedy.
Sundberg concluded with a description of new regulatory challenges raised by the fast-growing field of cloud computing, such as ensuring privacy and affirming clear ownership of personal and corporate data, dealing with unauthorized third party use of stored data, determining legal jurisdictions (if data is stored on servers in different locations), and avoiding anti-competitive lock-in of users of different types of cloud services. Cloud-based traffic continues to grow strongly, and is expected to represent at least two thirds of all network traffic flows by 2016.
So, what can be done to better protect the privacy of consumer data? “While we recommend that people be informed and exercise caution in engaging with any services that they use, ultimately, the only effective way to ensure principled and consistent legislative and policy frameworks is to secure global agreement on these issues,” concludes Maniewicz.
An Executive Summary of the report in English is available online and the complete publication can be ordered online via this link. The full webinar is archived in full at: http://itu.adobeconnect.com/p3il57c35l8/ and the video-taped discussion be viewed on a higher quality resolution on YouTube at: http://youtu.be/LtcX8njwTvg
Mengting Li is a communications officer with the ITU.