An Industry View on Telecoms Policy
With mobile service reaching over 95% of the global population and mobile internet access spreading fast, the digital revolution is empowering citizens and reshaping society all over the world. Recognising the value of mobile to society, many governments have set bold policies to cultivate the digital economy and protect consumers in the online environment, while ensuring the benefits of connectivity reach remote and underserved communities. As the mobile industry looks towards 5G to meet the demands of a digitalised world, the need for pro-investment policies and modernised regulatory regimes has never been greater.
For 5 billion people, mobile phones are an indispensable companion in daily life. From Tbilisi to Tianjin, people are using smartphones to look up an answer, negotiate a deal, speak to their child, download a song, book a ticket, get directions or even turn on the lights before they arrive home.
Governments recognise mobile as an important platform for socio-economic development and the delivery of public services. More than 1,000 mobile health services in developing countries are providing public information and diagnostic services. Mobile access is enabling new modes of teaching and increased opportunities for remote learning. Mobile money services are now serving over 400 million registered users in 92 countries, bringing financial services to previously unbanked people.
Today, mobile is a key component in the digitalisation of industry, generating new levels of efficiency and productivity in manufacturing, logistics, energy, agriculture — and virtually every economic sector. For consumers, there will be more intelligently connected appliances, more applications that react to users’ location and environment, and more platforms and services centred on video streaming. The digital story is still evolving, and the mobile industry is playing a pivotal role in it.
“Today, mobile is a key component in the digitalisation of industry, generating new levels of efficiency and productivity in manufacturing, logistics, energy, agriculture.”
To achieve the potential of the 5G era for consumers and industry two critical elements are required: a substantial investment in digital infrastructure, which must come predominantly from private sources, and a digital environment that inspires trust.
Collectively, the mobile industry has invested over US$1 trillion to build and maintain the world’s mobile infrastructure and to acquire licences to use mobile spectrum. As a result, most of the global population is covered by two or more mobile networks, and more than half of all mobile subscribers have a broadband connection. Even as 4G networks continue to spread, the industry is looking towards 5G to open up a world of new digital innovations. But without sufficient investment from the private sector, advanced mobile connectivity will be slow to spread beyond the densest city centres, holding back the development of a country’s digital economy.
Likewise, the digital ecosystem can thrive only if the participants are confident that the environment is trustworthy. Transactions must be secure and private, personal data must be managed according to the law and accepted principles, harmful or criminal online activities must be mitigated and prosecuted, and devices and network infrastructure must be protected from attacks. The mobile industry has worked to educate consumers and develop new features that build trust in its services. Each new iteration of technology has introduced new features, such as encryption and user identification validation, which have made mobile services increasingly secure and minimised the potential for fraud, identity theft and other possible threats.1
“Policymakes and regulators create the conditions that can attract telecoms investment and strengthen digital trust.”
Policymakers and regulators create the conditions that can attract telecoms investment and strengthen digital trust, however regulatory reform has not, generally, kept pace with the converged, highly dynamic and evolving digital ecosystem. A holistic policy framework that reflects the changing digital landscape while reducing costs and barriers to network deployment will deliver the best outcomes for society and the economy.
Regulatory frameworks should be reviewed and updated to promote market dynamism, competition and consumer welfare, while discarding legacy rules that are no longer relevant in the context of the digital ecosystem. Regulatory objectives are best met by focusing on the services delivered to consumers, rather than the type of company or technology that delivers them. Prescriptive (ex ante) regulations should be replaced, where possible, with measurable, performance-based approaches.2
Competition policy is an effective and versatile tool to ensure the proper functioning of markets, and should be updated to reflect a number of characteristics of the digital economy. Better balance is required between telecoms sector regulation and competition law, with the latter augmented by better procedures and faster decision making.3
The landscape of digital trust includes many decision makers and implications for business as well as society. At their core, the rules designed to protect society should be applied evenly across the digital economy and not be so prescriptive that opportunities to innovate are blocked. In the dynamic digital environment, industry and business need the freedom — and responsibility — to figure out what works best. One example of this is the mobile industry’s commitment to the principle of the open internet, while advocating flexibility in network management to deliver additional innovations and consumer benefits. Being too prescriptive in regulation and enforcement can get in the way of the best outcomes for consumers.
“Prescriptive (ex ante) regulations should be replaced where possible with measurable performance –based approaches.”
As a result of digital technologies, the next generation is experiencing a fundamentally different life from what their parents have known. They have unprecedented access to information, resources and digital services that give them greater choice and ability to direct their lives. Digital is not a panacea — that is abundantly clear. But if industry and governments approach the digital revolution with the right mix of policies, regulations and consumer protections while providing the framework for companies to compete and innovate, then society will advance and the welfare of citizens will expand.
“With the right mix of policies, regulations and consumer protections…society will advance and the welfare of citizens will expand.”
1. GSMA, “Safety, Privacy and Security Across the Mobile Ecosystem: Key Issues and Policy Implications” February 2017
2. GSMA, “A New Regulatory Framework for the Digital Ecosystem” February 2016
3. GSMA, “Resetting Competition Policy Frameworks for the Digital Ecosystem” October 2016