What are the results of a full year of working and learning from home? For some of my friends, it’s been improved cooking skills thanks to online tutorials, gaining new proficiency with digital technologies or simply spending more time with immediate family. For me, it’s been a little bit of the above together with a desktop full of online webinar backgrounds from the many great programmes and initiatives hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and partners throughout the year.
One thing is for sure: none of this would have been possible without the swift and effective work of global information and communication technology (ICT) regulators. When the pandemic broke out last year, I worked with many of them directly through ITU’s #REG4COVID platform to ensure global resiliency and keep networks operational despite the sudden surge in demand, offers DOREEN BOGDAN-MARTIN.
But robust regulation matters not just in times of crisis. In times of digital transformation, more than ever, regulation has to be practical, proportionate and fit-for-purpose. This year’s edition of the Global Symposium for Regulators, GSR-21, promotes a crucial long-term theme: “Regulation for digital transformation – Accelerating inclusive connectivity, access and use”.
To lead these crucial discussions, I am pleased to announce Acting Director-General of the Communications Authority of Kenya, Mercy Wanjau as our chairperson for GSR-21 and associated consultation on Best Practice Guidelines for ICT regulators.
I am confident that Ms Wanjau will bring unique insights on the role of regulators in ensuring inclusive digital transformation. According to ITU’s ‘G5 Benchmark’, Kenya’s collaborative, harmonized, forward-looking regulatory frameworks brings it to a fifth generation (G5) regulator.
Discussions at GSR-21 will highlight the need for collaborative leadership and approaches to ensure trust in a digital space; connectivity and regulatory enablers for digital transformation; financing to achieve affordable connectivity, meaningful access, and use; safe digital inclusion; and partnerships for digital transformation.
Ms Wanjau will also helm a new format, adapted to the times. This year’s GSR will consist of a series of interconnected virtual events, intended to facilitate discussions of regulatory perspectives, challenges and innovative solutions first at the regional level, prior to the main global sessions in June. This new format aims to boost inclusion and increase the participation of the global regulatory community in the critical discussions that have made GSR such an important platform since 2000.
In addition to her region’s key role at GSR-21, Africa also is set to host the next World Telecommunication and Development Conference (WTDC), the decision-making conference for the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) that directs the course of our activities over the next four years. Regulatory discussions will be fully integrated into preparations for WTDC, with GSR’s traditional Leadership Debate becoming a stop on the Road to Addis, as we are calling the run-up to our flagship development conference.
Regulation: Africa in focus
In fact, the regulatory market in Africa is evolving more than in any other region of the world. Today, nearly two thirds of African countries have either a national overarching policy or an ICT master plan – up from just over one third five years ago, according to ITU’s latest Digital Trends in Africa report.
With the right regulatory policies in place, Africa can create certainty, build economies of scale, and attract massive infrastructure investment. Such developments would be good news for the over 70 per cent of Africans who are still not using the Internet due to a lack of affordability, skills or reliable access.
GSR-21 preparations: Starting with Europe and Africa
The GSR-21 Regional Regulatory Roundtable for Europe and Africa, held virtually on 14 April, hosted around 30 speakers, mainly from regional and national regulatory associations, and attracted over 560 participants. Beyond highlighting common challenges, the forum provided a unique platform to build and strengthen inter-regional bridges in line with European Union and African Union priorities.
The harmonization of regulatory approaches has served to accelerate digital transformation across Europe. Both EU and non-EU countries have started creating the conditions to attract investment in meaningful connectivity. This means preserving competition while fostering ICT innovation, even in times of COVID-19. Europe has become a source of inspiration for many regulatory authorities, and I would like to encourage stronger efforts to build digital bridges between Africa and Europe, as well as to other regions.
Other highlights to watch out for include regional regulatory dialogues continuing through June (learn more here); #REG4COVID country case studies; and a new study on financing universal access and service (UAS) to digital technologies and services.
These critical discussions will guide us as we seek to build back better following the pandemic.
I invite you to join us for this important journey. Only by thinking and working together will we find solutions to these difficult and yet common challenges.
- Bogdan-Martin is Director, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau,