Review Step 2c: Characteristics & Trade-offs

Policy & Regulatory Regimes

The overall policy and regulatory environment for Internet connectivity in any given country will contribute significantly to either enabling and encouraging new service deployment for unconnected communities, or act as a gating impediment. There are three steps to understanding the potential constraints imposed by existing policies and identifying permissible options. Policy and regulatory action 1: Identify the country’s overall ICT regulator environment by reviewing ITU’s generations of ICT regulation (See ITU’s Global ICT Regulatory Outlook 2020) The latest data from ITU’s Regulatory and Market Environment group can help to determine how a specific country ranks in terms of overall ICT regulatory maturity.

Policy and regulatory action 2: Identify the country’s policy on universal access and coverage Many countries implement specific policies designed to encourage and directly support initiatives to expand connectivity access to underserved areas. These include national broadband plans and universal service policies, and may include universal service obligations and funds. For example, the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development tracks the number of countries that have established national broadband plans and that have included broadband in universal access initiatives, with underlying data and tracking provided by ITU’s ICT Eye database. These initiatives are usually led by the relevant executive branch agency designated as the lead for telecommunications (agencies, departments, etc.), but some are headed by relevant ministries (education, social development, etc.).

Policy and regulatory action 3: Specifically research existing policy options for: new entities to deliver new service to the unserved area; policies that facilitate existing service providers to expand service to the area; policies that compel either new entities or existing service providers to establish service.

These policies include the existing licensing and approvals process for the establishment of new Internet service providers; policies that allow existing service providers to expand to the underserved area, potentially through subsidies; and policies that require coverage expansion, such as coverage obligations linked to spectrum auctions or assignments of coverage spectrum, usually in exchange of lower fees. For example, operator licences are typically oriented towards large national operators, so it can be expensive and administratively complex for new small operators to obtain licences. However, in some countries, such as Brazil, South Africa, Uganda and Argentina, exemptions allow small, not-for-profit or local operators to set up and offer services. Similarly, access to wireless spectrum differs across countries. For licence-exempt/unlicensed technologies and spectrum bands (Wi-Fi), some countries require registration and an annual fee for each point-to-point line (permitted power output levels can also vary, limiting the technology’s effectiveness). For IMT spectrum, mobile cellular spectrum has been licensed nationwide but Mexico, Brazil, the United States and the United Kingdom are pioneering licence frameworks that enable use of unused IMT spectrum in rural areas. Dynamic spectrum regulations in other countries, such as Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda, are beginning to allow for the use of TV White Space technology. Similarly, policies that ensure open access to backhaul and open and affordable peering (such as at Internet exchange points) help to support new deployments and expansions.