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Time for Caribbean-wide telecom reform

Lessons from the EU telecoms regulatory reform process
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Technology Matters

“We need business models based not on yesterday’s rip-offs, but on tomorrow’s digital opportunities: with revenues not from outrageous margins on roaming, but from new innovative services that people will want to pay for.” 


Neelie Kroes, 
vice president of the European Commission



Caribbean telecoms regulators and operators should be closely tracking the telecommunications reform debate in progress in Europe. Their European counterparts are grappling with pressures to ensure that regulatory practice facilitates economic growth, increases competitiveness and protects the interests of consumers. 


These are the identical issues being faced by regional regulators in a rapidly mutating Caribbean regulatory environment. A look at the approach being taking in the European Union (EU) can provide the impetus not just for local regulatory reform, but for much needed regional approach to regulation in the telecommunications sector.


National telecom regulators often work with limited resources and an even more limited sight of the regional and international maneuvering of the operators they are supposed to regulate. It is no wonder then that they struggle at times to provide the needed guidance, input and pressure needed to ensure that optimise the telecommunications resource.


Last September, the European Commission (EC) released a list of proposed changes to the telecommunications regulations aimed at creating a single market for telecommunications across the EU. Key proposals included reducing roaming charges to consumers, introducing an EU wide protection of net neutrality and harmonising rules applicable to telecom operators. 


Alongside the legislative changes, the EC also published a recommendation to harmonise costs that incumbent operators can charge other operators for the access to their copper networks. The measure is intended to provide certainty to investors with the aim of fostering the development of next generation broadband services.


Many of the changes proposed by the EC are also hot topics in the Caribbean. The Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), recently hosted a regional ministerial forum where it advocated the an updated approach to telecom regulation. 


Telecom regulators in the region have often been justifiably criticised for being too slow to respond to the realities of the modern environment. The emergence of Internet-enabled services such as voice-over-IP technologies, and the dynamics of the digital economy are a far cry from the de-monopolisation focus that characterised the region’s approach to regulation for over two decades. Different times call for a different tactics. What is need now is a truly regional approach to telecoms regulation the puts development, not restriction, as the defining priority. 


Regional regulatory practice must now be honed to better stimulate economic growth opportunities across all sectors, and to better safeguard the interest of consumers. This is why the debate over the European reforms is so relevant to the regional dialog between our own regulators and operators. 


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