[ITU News] Light-touch, flexible regulation to the changing realities

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Key Themes Emerge from GSR 16
Thursday, November 10th, 2016

“We have to move from vertical regulation to collaborative regulation,” said Brahima Sanou, the Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), during opening remarks that set the tone for the Symposium.

A new, complex landscape

 “ICT is now at the core of all economic activity,” said Scott Minehane, Principal at Windsor Place Consulting and co-author of the GSR-16 discussion paper, The Race for Scale: Market Power, Regulation and the App Economy. “All of the things that are disruptive today will become the norm tomorrow.”

GSR-16 participants discussed how to deal with a range of disruptive ICT trends — from the rise of popular “Over the Top” (OTT) players such as Netflix, Skype, and WhatsApp to issues surrounding new 5G and IoT technologies to local content requirements.

 “Innovation is coming from ICT companies. … Telecom operators are behind. Regulators are way behind,” says Bocar Ba, Chief Executive Officer of the SAMENA Telecommunications Council and Chair of ITU’s Chief Regulatory Officer’s Meeting. “The KPIs [key performance indicators] we used to have yesterday won’t work. They are irrelevant.”

How do regulators adjust to the changing realities?

 “It’s going to be difficult for us to figure out which technologies are going to be important and how they’re all going to fit together,” said Peter Pitsch, Global Executive Director, Intel Corporation. “The answer is that regulators need to come up with the best possible discovery process. By that I mean putting in place a regime that develops good information and incentives to act on that information, from the bottom up. There’s going to be lots of investment and risk taking, and frankly, a lot of experimenting. One practical idea is to come up with long, flexible licenses. … At the end of the day, getting this good discovery process is all about discovering what works for consumers.”

Light-touch, flexible regulation

 This sentiment was widely shared during GSR-16. Serving ICT consumers better means more connected citizens, more jobs, and better economic growth. So how can regulators help? Go slowly, tread lightly, and stay flexible, said many in attendance.

 “Technology will always advance faster than regulation. Regulators very often jump the gun,” said Shiv Bakhshi, VicePresident of Industry Relations for Ericsson. “Let technologies take some shape before you regulate. Heavy-handed regulation is never a very good idea. Light-touch regulation is always preferred.”

Mr Minehane echoed the importance of flexibility, suggesting that regulators should ease regulation so that traditional telcos have more flexibility to compete in the app economy. He also said that new entrants should be granted temporary licenses so that regulators could assess and make needed changes for longerterm licenses.

When it comes to IoT and smart cities, we need to think about regulation in a really collective, comprehensive way.