Emerging Trends | Regulation
April 9, 2016

Keeping regulation apace with technological change

By Malcolm Johnson

Today, I had the pleasure of speaking at Oman’s Telecom Forum on Law, Regulation and Enforcement on the topic of ‘International Agreements Regulating Telecom Services’. ITU is the custodian of several international agreements regulating telecom services, including our founding Constitution and the Radio Regulations.

In my opinion, this Forum is both very important and timely for a number of reasons, not least because we are starting to have a better understanding of what the Internet revolution really signifies for our myriad legal frameworks and regulatory institutions. As such, there are a number of key questions to consider.

How can criminal and libel laws adapt, when someone can be named and shamed, and convicted in the court of public opinion on Twitter, weeks before any official court reviews evidence as to their guilt or innocence?

How can tax laws be updated for multinational Internet players, which can arrange their accounts in such a way as to pay little or no tax in any particular country? Can our competition laws cope with or confront the giant online monopolies developing, which may be dominant in global markets, as well as national markets?

How can our trade laws or customs duties be improved, when 3D printing could soon mean that we can email blueprints of goods to be ‘printed’ in another country, rather than exchanging containers full of goods at the border? And how can law enforcement deal with perpetrators of online crimes and theft that are often half a world away?

And last, but far from least, how can our telecom laws – and telecom incumbents – adapt to the growth of cyberspace, where national laws and players may have only limited reach? Here, at least, we are seeing good progress. ITU research shows that, of our 193 Member States, 148 countries had a National Broadband Plan or Law in place by mid-2015. However, the average lifetime of a Plan was seven years – but it is not enough just to put a plan into place; it is vital to review it regularly.

While the Internet clearly offers many benefits, and though the over-arching legal principles are usually well-established in many countries, we nevertheless face very real challenges in updating legal & regulatory frameworks.

Many of ITU’s work streams address this challenge head-on. The Radio Regulations were recently revised at ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference 2015, which saw important agreementsreached on additional spectrum for mobile broadband and flight tracking in real-time, among other items. Every year, we host our Global Symposium for Regulators to debate the impact of ICTs on national and international regulation. GSR-16 will take place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in May. ITU-T Study Group 3 examines the economics of telecom networks, including peering and roaming agreements.

Authorities and administrations must pay careful attention to what technological changes mean for them, national regulatory frameworks and for their citizens. This needs to be done in partnership, dialogue and understanding with all the different stakeholders, and ITU is dedicated to playing its role in facilitating and advancing these important debates. I’ll be listening most attentively in Oman to any concerns which ITU Member States and Administrations bring to the Forum.

Malcolm Johnson (@ITU_DSGwas elected ITU Deputy Secretary General at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 in Busan, Republic of Korea. Mr. Johnson was elected as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in 2006 in Antalya, Turkey and was re-elected at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2010 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
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Keeping regulation apace with technological change

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