Shared resources could be the answer to enabling rapid mobile network rollouts in developing countries.
The Global Symposium for Regulators, held this week, focusing on best practices in regulatory measures to foster and encourage sharing of infrastructure resources as a means of stimulating investment and growth in the ICT sector.
Regulatory reforms over the past decade have led to unprecedented take-up of mobile telephony, especially in developing countries. Yet, much of the world's population remains without voice services and very few people in the developing world have access to broadband Internet.
"Innovative business models and services are helping to drive the take-up of mobile communications in emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Africa and the Americas," says Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of ITU. "Pro-competitive and open access strategies are needed to cut the cost of deploying ICT networks – and thus take a big step towards achieving the targets set by the World Summit on the Information Society as well as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals."
Dr Touré says that sound regulatory frameworks would establish the enabling environment for telecommunications and ICT development and help meet the connectivity targets. At a news conference, Dr Touré said that the connectivity targets must in fact be advanced to 2012 if we are to utilise the catalytic potential of ICT to help meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Steered by NTC Commissioner Sethaporn Cusripituck, GSR-08 found consensus on a set of best practice guidelines aimed at fostering affordable broadband access through innovative infrastructure sharing and open access strategies related to: pricing; efficient use of resources; spectrum sharing; licensing; neutral, fair and non-discriminating interconnection; transparency in information sharing; and sharing with other infrastructure industries, such as electricity, gas, water, sewage, railways to distribute the cost of civil works.
Looking at the value of sharing best practices, Kevin Martin, chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), says: "Within the ITU and within our agencies we have been grappling with the best ways to achieve affordable access to communications."
Regulators also recognized the need for regional and international harmonisation to ensure widespread use of best practice regulatory policies on sharing, especially in areas dealing with cross-border effects.
In order to encourage universal access and bridge the so-called 'digital divide', regulators will consider incentives for service providers who share infrastructure, including financial subsidies on a competitive basis.
Referring to the Indian experience, where the aim is to double the number of subscribers to 500-million by 2010, Chairman of the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRAI) Nirpendra Misra, said: "Sharing is key to promoting ICT access at affordable prices in rural areas" and recommended that both passive and active mobile and backhaul infrastructure sharing be encouraged.
"Operators will automatically receive subsidies for the deployment and management of towers, funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), as long as operators share the towers with three other operators or service providers."
Misra said rural India is in for a telecommunication explosion as every village with a population over 2 000 would be hooked up with individual fixed or mobile phones. Recognizing that the start-up price for rural subscribers would be too high, he said taxation would be brought down on handsets along with a 50% reduction of contributions to the USOF.