Table of Contents

  • I am delighted to present the first edition of our preliminary report on General Trends in Telecommunication Reform 1998. As we all know, over the past decade and since the publication of the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) report on The Changing Telecommunication Environment, much attention has been focused on the rapidly evolving telecommunication industry, in particular the reform of the telecommunication sector: the separation of operational and regulatory functions; the corporatization and privatization of operators; and the liberalization of various market segments.

  • The dramatic pace of change in the telecommunication sector over recent years has been both exciting and extraordinary. Incumbent telecommunication operators have undergone ownership transformation in many countries, while many formerly insulated domestic markets have been opened to the entry of new operators. To implement and sustain these developments, many governments have carried through two related tasks: the reform of existing telecommunication legislation and the creation of new regulatory agencies.

  • The countries in the African region are undertaking significant reforms to develop their telecommunication infrastructure, increase their low penetration rates and provide better quality service to the public. Most countries have passed or are pursuing legislation to restructure their telecommunication sector to allow for new technologies and services, to permit competition in basic telecommunication, introduce private investment, and to establish a credible regulatory agency to oversee the sector.

  • In the past decade, many countries in the Americas region have attempted to privatize their operators, introduce some level of competition and establish separate regulatory bodies. Not all have succeeded in their ambitious attempts to reform, but the overall results are encouraging. Governments in the region have overwhelmingly recognized the importance of telecommunications to economic development. This was made clear at the 1996 Senior Officials meeting called for by the 1995 Summit of the Americas. It was further demonstrated at the recent conclusion of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Group on Basic Telecommunications (GBT), where 23 countries from the Americas region, out of the 72 countries that signed the agreement, made liberalization commitments. The Caribbean countries reaffirmed this in the 1997 Bridgetown Declaration, where it was recognized that “access to modern telecommunications is indispensable to the development of international trade as well as to national and regional, social and economic development and security

  • The telecommunication sector in the Arab States is dominated by state-owned monopolies in basic networks and services. In most cases, these monopolies are self-regulating and operate under traditional public management systems. Telecommunications is often viewed as an extension of the states’ social service tradition, making reform a highly-charged political issue.

  • Countries of the Asia-Pacific region have adopted a variety of structural and regulatory reforms to achieve differing priorities for the telecommunication sector in their countries. These priorities have focused on creating an environment conducive to the development of infrastructure and services to meet or exceed expected demand.

  • Telecommunication sector reform has been a priority for most European countries in the past decade. In Western Europe, the reform agenda has been dominated by market restructuring which began in the 1980s: the corporatization, then the partial or full privatization of the incumbent telecommunication operator; the introduction of competition in terminal equipment, value-added network and mobile services and finally in basic voice telephony; the establishment of an appropriate regulatory structure and ‘rules of the game’ to ensure fair conditions for competition. For the 15 European Union (EU) countries, the goal is the creation of a liberalized, competitive and harmonized single European market in telecommunication equipment and services. The institutions of the EU (the European Council, Commission, Parliament and Court of Justice) have substantial law-making powers, and a ‘telecommunication regulatory reform package’ of legislative measures to ensure the functioning of this single market has been, or is being adopted by EU member states. A key deadline of 1 January 1998 was fixed for the liberalization of voice telephony as well as telecommunication infrastructure and cable TV networks in these countries.