Why this year’s Global Symposium for Regulators is more important than ever

In the nearly 20 years since I helped set up the very first Global Symposium for Regulators, held in Geneva in the year 2000, the GSR has gone from strength to strength to become the pre-eminent global meeting of the ICT regulatory community.

At the time, our vision was to create a unique, specialist meeting place where regulators and policy makers could get together to thrash out the many challenging issues arising through the rapid growth of the technology sector and the convergence of once-disparate ICT services.

Since its inception, the GSR has encouraged robust discussion and the frank exchange of views. We wanted regulators to be able to share their experiences freely, and to be open about their difficulties as well as their successes. It was our belief that sharing knowledge within the confines of a privileged expert community would be very beneficial in helping shape new frameworks of ‘regulatory best practice’ that could be applied by governments and independent regulators around the world.
Building consensus
The other defining principle on which the GSR was built was consensus. The model we developed promoted two days’ of dialogue and debate on a wide range of pressing issues, followed by the forging of a shared vision around best-practice principles. That drive for consensus is what created the GSR Best Practice Guidelines, which have become the final output of every annual GSR event.

When the first GSR opened its doors to 200+ experts from 85 countries, there were just 96 telecoms regulatory agencies worldwide. I’m pleased to say that, with the critical role technology plays in global economic development now universally acknowledged, there’s almost no economy that does not have its own ICT regulator, managing vital issues like spectrum allocation, operator licensing, and national network development.

It is clear that our actions need to go beyond the ICT sector to take into account the ICT ecosystem and to define how to foster digital transformation for people, countries and regions.

If the success of the GSR is partly due to the global proliferation of ICT regulators, it’s also due to the increasingly complex policy environment in which those regulators work. The GSR has played a central role in helping regulators get to grips with the burning issues that keep them awake at night – issues such as evolving digital taxation frameworks, infrastructure sharing strategies, consumer trust issues, the blurring of demarcation lines between content development and network operation, network investment issues, and digital inclusion.
Adapting to the new ICT landscape
And now that ICTs underpin our digital economy, the broadening ICT landscape is increasingly becoming intertwined with that of other industries, from transportation to banking to health – and others. We are seeing this shift play out at ITU, where new, innovative players are joining top names in the business as ITU members.

It is clear that our actions need to go beyond the ICT sector to take into account the ICT ecosystem and to define how to foster digital transformation for people, countries and regions. ICT policy and regulatory frameworks need to be up-to-date, flexible, incentive-based and market-driven to support digital transformation across sectors and across geographical regions.

Looking back over nearly 20 years of GSR, one thing seems certain: the role of the ICT regulator has never been more important.

The GSR has reflected this converging industry landscape in recent years by bringing a wider range of stakeholders to the table to join the critical movement toward ‘fifth generation’ collaborative regulation where all of the relevant players are shaping these key decisions together – from the beginning.  Next-generation collaborative ICT regulatory measures and tools are the new frontier for regulators and policy makers as they work towards maximizing the opportunity afforded by the digital transformation.
Timely, relevant programme
I believe ITU’s commitment to the timeliness and relevance of the GSR programme and the quality of the expert speakers we’ve been able to engage are, ultimately, what have made this symposium into an unmissable event on the global regulatory calendar.

This year’s event, which is hosted by the Government of Vanuatu in the Pacific island community of Port Vila, promises some new highlights to complement the traditional GSR elements of expert debate and public-private sector dialogue.

With the theme of Inclusive Connectivity: The Future of Regulation, the event will for the first time welcome several Commissioners from the United Nations Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, who will share their views on the best approach to connecting ‘the next 50%’.

The event will also feature a simulation exercise on a fictitious natural disaster designed to engage participants in an interactive session on disaster preparedness and response. This simulation is particularly relevant for Vanuatu and the Pacific island and south-east Asia region, where extreme weather events and catastrophes like tsunamis have taken a tragic toll on human life and severely damaged public infrastructure in recent years, and are a constant risk as the planet’s climate continues to change.
More important than ever
Looking back over nearly 20 years of GSR, one thing seems certain: the role of the ICT regulator has never been more important. There’s no doubt that ICTs will be at the heart of efforts to attain the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, and that accessible, affordable ICT infrastructure is the pre-condition of every nation’s ongoing socio-economic development.

I’m looking forward enormously to meeting this year’s expert speakers and joining in the spirited debates that will ultimately culminate in a new set of regulatory guidelines for a new era of regulation.

It’s an era that is going to be characterized by collaboration, cooperation and the need for a common vision around the challenge before all of us; ensuring digital transformation meaningfully improves the lives and opportunities available to all our planet’s people.

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