Achieving Universal Access and Creating a Sustainable Digital Economy Require First Seeing the Private Sector through a New Lens
SAMENA Accelerator Policy Roundtables on November 19th & 25th to Assist in Implementing Recommendations Communicated Earlier by SAMENA Council CEO to Policymakers and Regulators on Behalf of the Private Sector in Efforts to Accelerate Infrastructure Advancement and the Digital Economy
SAMENA Telecommunications Council, represented by its CEO, Bocar A. BA, co-led with the ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao the ITU's Private Sector Roundtable with CEOs from the Telecom Industry in mid-October as a catalyzing step to bridge cooperation between the Private Sector and the ITU, and to bring greater representation of the needs and challenges of the Telecom Operators at the ITU level. The outcome of the discussion and recommendations collectively put forward by the Private Sector were subsequently presented by SAMENA Council CEO to the Policymakers and Regulators in a follow-up ITU Ministerial Meeting, held in late October.
Given that a collective global digital-development goal is to timely achieve Universal Digital Access, and thus connect the still-unconnected 3.7 billion people on the planet, there is a need to ensure that no one is left behind in feeling the benefits of digital communication technologies. Achieving this goal is central to fulfilling the promises made by the Connect 2030 Agenda, and is vital to effectively mitigating the current and future crises and tackling increasing social and economic inequalities that have become more pronounced as a result of the Covid crisis. Doing so, however, requires combining the Industry's collective experiences, expertise, wisdom, aspirations, mutual welfare and striving together in collaboration, necessarily, and in partnerships, as needed.
SAMENA Council's contributions in the ITU Private Sector Roundtable and the ITU Ministerial Roundtable have been a contiguous part of the Council's advocacy program and have been conducted in the similar context as was the Council's representation of the Private Sector, rendered during the Plenary Session at the closing of the GSR20 back in September. CEO SAMENA Council had highlighted to the Telecom Regulatory Authorities from all around the world key focus areas for ensuring the growth of the Industry, and to affirm the Private Sector's readiness for collaborative engagement with Policymakers and Regulators. Such key areas were identified in the outcome statement to help achieve Universal Digital Access and Services, including fulfilling the need for availability of sufficient and flexible spectrum; reviewing and repurposing of USF funds and acceleration of USF disbursement to address gaps in connectivity, and both maintaining and expanding networks to ensure better preparedness and network resilience; urgently reviewing industry fees and taxation; promoting infrastructure-sharing; taking harmonization and standardization measures to enable secure and safe cross-border data movement; and ensuring good governance and agility prevail in regulatory measures to address issues emerging from the use of digital technologies. In essence, SAMENA Council had stressed upon creating an enabling environment, including through regulatory frameworks that specifically enable connectivity and increased public-sector participation in non-economical areas. To adapt to the “new normal”, better preparedness and network readiness as well as an increased focus on connectivity and infrastructure investment were highlighted as key.
However, building on the recommendations in September, the October recommendations, which SAMENA Council believes are realistic and implementable, carried a lucid message from the Private Sector to the Governments that the latter need to be more deeply and actively engaged, including on refocusing efforts and policies targeting broadband deployment, and that the Governments must view the Private Sector as the enabling engine of ICT-driven nation-building and sustainable development and not as a mere revenue contributor to the national treasury.
The October recommendations conveyed during the ITU Ministerial Roundtable also re-emphasized on holistically reviewing current taxation models and regimes, including broadening and institutionalizing the tax contribution base, which should include digital players of all profiles; those with physical infrastructure of their own and those with no physical infrastructure while they provide the same services as those with physical infrastructure.
SAMENA Council re-stressed the need to provide fair treatment to Telecom Operators and to all Digital Space players. Moreover, the Council promoted the need for building robust broadband infrastructure through hybrid solutions, which would require increased contributions and investment from all industry players engaged in the proliferation and use of ICT infrastructure, applications and services. In this context, it would be necessary to devise new approaches in funding and financing digital infrastructure development, including ensuring involvement of, Financial, Healthcare, and Education sectors, among others, to both traditional and cloud-based ICT infrastructure.
Policymakers and Regulators have been requested to pursue strategies that can realize level-playing fields. All policy decisions and regulations should ensure stability, predictability in the market and be optimized to reduce barriers. Such approaches may automatically keep over-regulation at bay and would encourage market growth. Specific attention to areas such as leveraging other utility networks such as electricity networks to expand broadband reach; adoption of a true technology-neutral culture both in terms of policy-making and regulation; and government-level incentivization of partnership development among the Telecom and other industries, was drawn in the ITU Ministerial Meeting.
The ICT industry has made considerable progress in expanding global connectivity in the last decade. However, an unprecedented level of effort is required to expand the opportunity of digital solutions to all. This necessitates accelerating advancement of ICT infrastructure, including Fiber-optic based networks, which will serve as the conduit for the Digital Economy. Considerable opportunities are created by broadband networks to advance sustainable development across all sectors of economy and society, to drive innovation, communication and economic growth. However, in order to unleash the full potential of ICTs, challenges such as bridging the digital divide, addressing the financing gap, providing affordable access, fostering an enabling environment, which should support ICT infrastructure expansion and sustainable development of the Digital Economy, need to be overcome on an expedited basis.
To assist in acting upon the earlier recommendations put forward by the Private Sector to Policymakers and Regulators, SAMENA Council is embarking upon its SAMENA Accelerator policy roundtables, with the first meeting centered on Fiber deployment to be held on November 19th, followed by a second roundtable on November 25th, focusing specifically on accelerating a sustainable Digital Economy.
Source: SAMENA Press release