Unified approach

InterComms talks to Susan Schorr, Regulatory Officer ITU/BDT Regulatory Reform Unit, about the background to the ITU's ' Licensing in an Era of Convergence' recent Trends in Telecommunication Report

Susan Carroll Schorr joined the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in March 2000 as a regulatory officer in the BDT Regulatory Reform Unit. She frequently lectures and provides training on key regulatory issues in the information and communication technology sector. Ms. Schorr is the architect of the Global Regulators' Exchange (G-REX), an online forum and hotline for regulators and policy makers. She has authored and edited a series of BDT case studies on effective regulation, interconnection dispute resolution, licensing, and convergence regulation in Latin America as well as case studies providing feedback to regulators from investors, consumers and the private sector. She is a regular contributor to the annual ITU publication, Trends in Telecommunication Reform, which has addressed key regulatory issues such as Interconnection Regulation, Effective Regulation, Promoting Universal Access To ICTs and Licensing in an Era of Convergence. She organized the first global meeting for regulators hosted by the ITU/BDT, the Development Symposium for Regulators held in Geneva in November 2000, and has, along with her colleagues in the RRU, continued to organize the ITU Global Symposium for Regulators on an annual basis.

Prior to joining BDT, Ms. Schorr practiced antitrust law as an associate in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Howrey & Simon, LLP (now Howrey Simon Arnold & White LLP). She graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1987 cum laude and is a member of the California and D.C. bars. Ms. Schorr has also worked as a telecommunications journalist.

Q: Why was the focus of the recent Trends in Telecommunication Report on 'Licensing in an Era of Convergence'? Was this in direct response to a particular request or more of a pre-emptive topdown strategy decision by the ITU?
A: The topic was recommended by the participants in the 2003 Global Symposium for Regulators. Each year, ITU seeks the input of the world's regulators in the GSR to identify the areas of study for the Regulatory Reform Unit for the next year.

Q: What is your feeling about the impact on market and regulators?
A: It is early days for this report and too early for the Global Symposium for Regulators to have an impact on the market. However, I don't think it is too early to say that they will ultimately have an impact on regulators. I think that the report and message we at the ITU are trying to convey was very well received during the event. Regulators around the world now realise that the time has come to move forward. Most of them have succeeded in the initial stages of sector reform. This was to open their mobile markets to competition and they have seen great success in doing that. If you look at the numbers of mobile subscribers globally you will see that the majority of the World's users are in developing countries and the numbers just keep on growing. This has been achieved by their embracing sector reform but what they need to do now is move to the next step so that they can see the same sort of gains in terms of more advanced communications services and Information and Communication Technologies and in particular the internet. I think that if they continue to maintain either technology specific or service specific market entry vehicles it will be difficult for them to see the growth in ICT and Internet they are hoping for. Around the world, policy makers and regulators are now conducting public consultations on topics such as Voice over Internet Protocol and further market liberalisations. I attended a conference in Botswana in January, which was just such a public consultation on about what steps to take to further liberalize their telecommunications market. At the event delegates commented that there had also been similar events in Tanzania and South Africa which had recently addressed the same issue.

Q: You spoke at the recent ITU symposium on a global approach to eliminating SPAM. Perhaps you could talk about this as a case study to show how international regulators co-operation could occur?
A: Possible areas of co-operation that have been identified include sharing best practices on antispam legislation, enforcement, building consumer awareness and technical solutions to spam. The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has been very active in trying to mobilise a global effort on this topic. We at the ITU have been trying to be supportive of that work through organising virtual conferences on spam. And ITU organized the WSIS Thematic Meeting on Countering Spam in July 2004 trying to generate interest in this and we will also be working on that again later this year. I know that Australia and Korea have entered in to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and they are inviting other interested parties to join that MoU for further co-operation. The ACA website has a lot of information on its website.

Q: Can you outline one of the new trends identified: unified licenses?
A: A growing number of countries have tried to simplify the licensing process to accommodate and reflect convergence, to facilitate market entry and to promote greater transparency and consistency. Increasingly countries are developing both technology-neutral and service-neutral approaches to licensing, as well as moving to reducing licensing requirements in favor of general authorizations, registrations or mere notifications. Recognizing that even generic licensing classifications can hinder efficient technology use and service provision, a few countries have made efforts to do away with all licensing distinctions, creating in their place a "unified licence" category with minimal licensing requirements. In some cases, previously licensed services are subject to no licensing requirements at all.

Q: Can you point to an example?
A: India has already started with its unified access licence. Until relatively recently the Indian market was divided between mobile operators who use GSM technology and licenses for what they called Wireless Local Loop Mobility, which used CDMA technology. This was supposed to be wireless fixed line access. What they actually did was make the operators used handsets that were much like fixed line handsets - big and bulky but nonetheless wireless handsets. What they found was that people were actually moving them around on motor scooters and cars and effectively using them as oversized cell phones. Eventually several of the operators began offering competitive mobile services and their numbers began to grow. This was despite the fact that the regulation meant they weren't supposed to be doing this. However, there was no reason technologically that the operators couldn't offer mobile services. India then moved to remove that regulatory barrier so now CDMA operators and GSM operators can compete on a level playing field. As a consequence, both are now seeing their mobile subscribers rise. India has called that the unified access license. They have now realised that the technology has superseded the regulatory barriers and they are moving to remove even more regulatory barriers. They are planning on having a unified licence so that any network operators can use any technology of their choice to provide any kind of ICT service they wish. This goes for telephony, Internet, broadcast, VoIP- they are free to do as they wish in an effort to really grow the number of subscribers.

Q: What is the rationale for licensing?
A: Licensing is used for a variety of reasons including to control market structure, the number and types of network operators or service providers, the extent of competition, the pace of infrastructure expansion, the affordability and range of Telecommunication, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) services available to consumers and to allocate scare resources. Licensing can be used to control market entry and as a vehicle to impose a wide range of regulatory obligations and ensure implementation of various policy objectives. Increasingly, regulators and policy makers realize, with technological advancements and market evolution, that licensing practices too must evolve to reflect current conditions. Maintaining outdated and irrelevant licensing classifications, for example, can act as a barrier to market entry, hinder competition and therefore present an obstacle to ICT development.

Q: What is best practice in licensing models?
A: Many of the newer approaches to licensing as well as the move to de-licensing are explored in the 2004 edition of Trends in Telecommunication Reform: Licensing in an Era of Convergence. These include the unified license approach being implemented in India, the facilities-based and service-based licensing approaches used in Singapore and the technology and service-neutral approach used in Malaysia in which servicespecific classifications were replaced by four generic classifications: network facility provider, network service provider, application service provider and content applications service provider. That model has been adopted by Mauritius, and Tanzania and Kenya are also examining this model. That model clearly seems to have garnered some interest by a variety of developing countries. The Singapore model is more a straightforward division between services based and infrastructure based licensing. In addition, Japan has moved to a registration and notification approach and the European Union has moved to a system of general authorizations. In other countries, e.g., the U.S., some services, such as Wi-Fi hotspots, are subject to no licensing requirements at all. Some approaches may be more open than others. Each has its advantages. I think it is to early to say that there is one model that will be adopted by the majority of countries.

For more information:
Please contact: Toby Johnson, toby.johnson@itu.int
Or visit www.itu.int

Upcoming Events

Contributing Organisations
All Content Copyright © Entico Corporation Ltd. 2005