Digital regulators must collaborate to build forward better

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU, and Mercy Wanjau, Acting Director-General, Communications Authority of Kenya, and GSR-21 Chair

Today’s digital economies are reaching across borders, far and wide. Digital regulation is pivotal to facilitate the flow of investment and services between industries and countries and to the build-out of high-capacity, resilient, open infrastructure for all.

To leverage synergies and pool funds, regulators are expected to engage in whole-of-government approaches, which must include collaboration and coordination at the national and local levels.

Collaboration is also needed to address social and economic priorities, firstly between ministries for information and communication technology (ICT), economy/finance, and planning, but also with those for education, health, agriculture, transport, gender, security and energy.

Stronger international and regional cooperation, meanwhile, could help to address thorny issues related to digital trade, taxation, data protection, and cybersecurity. Open markets underpinned by collaborative regulation can foster unprecedented opportunities for people of all backgrounds in health, education, finance, commerce, energy, ICTs and other fields.

The Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) – held annually since 2000 – provides a unique, neutral discussion platform for regulators and policy makers to share their experiences and best practices.


Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU, and Mercy Wanjau, Acting Director-General, Communications Authority of Kenya, and GSR-21 Chair
GSR-21 Chair Mercy Wanjau and ITU’s Doreen Bogdan-Martin
Best regulatory practices for digital transformation
This year’s GSR Best Practice Guidelines, adopted during the Heads of Regulators meeting on 21 June, will help countries optimize their regulatory strategies to drive faster and more inclusive connectivity. As in previous years, the Guidelines will facilitate high-value debate on the future of markets and regulation.

Published annually since 2003, the report builds on wisdom from the global community of regulators, helping to guide users through the uncharted territory of digital transformation. The 2021 edition addresses the unprecedented disruptions caused by COVID-19.

The Guidelines lay out the key features needed in regulatory regimes to keep digital markets ‘switched on’, accelerate market uptake, and deliver easy access to more people, faster.

Such best practices, if widely adopted, could help developing economies leapfrog ahead, with governments, businesses, and citizens reaping the full benefit of digital technologies.
New mechanisms needed
The 2021 Guidelines highlight the imperative to introduce agile financing mechanisms for digital infrastructure, access and use. What’s more, policy and regulatory tools are already at hand to bridge the financing gap in digital markets. Appropriate finance can turbo-charge regulatory progress, foster collaborative digital regulation – otherwise known as 5th generation regulation (G5) – and unlock digitally transformed, inclusive economies.

This year’s edition is more than ever community-owned, by the regulatory community and for the regulatory community, across regions and globally. Regulators everywhere need to adopt and implement a globally agreeable approach in a manner relevant to their particular national circumstances.

A sizeable toolbox is available for regulators to leverage evolving market dynamics, adapt in the aftermath of COVID-19, and seize new digital opportunities.

For example:

  • Innovative financial instruments and targeted incentives can be tailored for traditional and new players in infrastructure deployment, especially in underserved areas.
  • Dedicated national funding instruments, such as infrastructure and innovation funds, alongside universal service funds, could drive infrastructure development across economic sectors.
  • Strategic tax policy, including tax incentives or tax deductibility for new investments and the removal of sector-specific taxes on digital services, devices, and equipment, can go a long way in fostering digital economies.
  • Safe spaces for regulatory experimentation allow innovators to fine-tune new business models and build resilience of new digital services, thus giving people and businesses new channels for economic and social activity.
  • Regulatory sandboxes reflect to the complexity of new digital technologies and services, reducing time-to-market and helping secure funding for broad rollout to new consumer groups and the previously unconnected.

Practical application
The GSR-21 Best Practice Guidelines call for a sharp focus on policy implementation to ensure wide, sustainable impact. Policy and regulatory measures must be designed and applied to make digital devices available and affordable. This includes connecting schools, local government offices and health centres, creating e-government applications, and promoting local digital content.

Building on best practices and lessons acquired learnings over the past two decades, ITU metrics help regulators and policy makers navigate complex digital markets and technological transformation:

• The ICT Regulatory Tracker helps monitor progress and identify gaps in regulatory frameworks.
• The G5 Benchmark sets the gold standard for fast-track, collaborative, cross-sectoral regulation.

Based on these benchmarks, regulators and policy makers can find granular, focused analysis at their fingertips, turning high-level policy guidance into practical, actionable advice to measure progress, pinpoint gaps, and hone future regulation.

Read the 2021 Guidelines: Regulatory uplift for financing digital infrastructure, access and use

Bookmark all GSR Best Practice Guidelines since 2003

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