The Need for Futuristic ICT Policy & Regulatory Frameworks

A well designed policy & regulatory framework is at the core of almost all sectors of human affairs, but has far more and ever increasing importance for ICT Development.

Generally, Policy is “a set of ideas or a plan of what to do in particular situations that has been agreed to officially by a group of people, a business organization, a government, or a political party.” Why we always need a policy? There are many significant answers to this important question but the most important answer is that policy not only helps in ongoing circumstances, it also guides any department (both private and public) in its future plans as well. Whereas, regulation is “intervention in the market in an attempt to implement policy and produce outcomes which might not otherwise occur, ranging from consumer protection to faster growth or technological advancement”.

Hence, the basic complexity arrives when policy & regulation has to be incorporated in future goals and that’s where the great responsibility for decision makers lies. How the future situations can be hypothesized in a policy & regulatory framework? How and what measures a government needs to take in order to tackle future challenges? Not only these, there are many other areas for which the decision makers are supposed to think well and then design a policy & regulatory framework.

The basic complexity arrives when policy & regulation is incorporated in future goals, that’s where the great responsibility for decision makers lies

A big upcoming wave of change in the telecommunications sector will be the emergence of next generation mobile broadband networks i.e. the likes of advance LTE and 5G where mobile devices and related broadband connectivity will continue to be more and more embedded in the fabric of society. Importantly, they are the key in driving the momentum around some important trends such as Internet of Things (IoT), Over the Top services (OTTs), m-Services (m-Health, m-Education etc.), Smart Cities and Video Streaming & Content. The number of connected people and importantly things continue to grow as mobile and “Smart” device utilization and connectivity continues to expand—which will ultimately shape and define the space for things to come.

The Need for Futuristic ICT Policy & Regulatory Frameworks

Phoneworld attempts to highlight what other telecom policy and regulatory organizations have achieved as far as policy and regulation developments for the future are concerned and how Pakistan can benefit from it. Phoneworld has selected USA’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC), UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom), Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and India’s Telecom Regularity Authority of India (TRAI) for a snapshot comparison. We have analyzed Pakistan Telecommunications Authority’s performance and standing as compared to these other four international regulatory authorities with reference to emerging technologies.

Internet of Things (IoT)/Smart Cities

The concept of “Internet of Things (IoT)” has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the internet. IoT is basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). And the list of these devices include everything from cellphones to coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything one can think of. This is why every government must think for its possible intervention into the system in order to benefit more consumers. As technology costs are going down and smartphone penetration has sky-rocketed in the last couple of years hence, these things are creating a perfect environment for the IoT.

The Need for Futuristic ICT Policy & Regulatory Frameworks

According to IDC, there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020 that will generate almost US$900 billion revenues. The expected demand of course will be requiring a harmonized policy and regulatory framework but additionally in certain sectors, Governments will have to take a lead in making it more conducive for other eco-system players for wider adoption.

Among all these regulators, FCC and PTA to some extent, has a much clearer vision or well-developed thought process for development of IoT and smart cities. The FCC CEO anticipated that FCC along with industry and standard bodies will soon stimulate a security framework for 5G and IoT that will evolve to accommodate new functions and security threats.

A big upcoming wave of change for the telecommunications sector will be the emergence of next generation mobile broadband networks i.e. the likes of advance LTE and 5G

Also after going through all these regulators’ policies, it becomes evident that clear regulations is still a job to be done and it will appear for IoTs in near future as the governments have realized well its potential and its projects are on almost on everyone’s radar. In order to promote the smart city initiatives and ensure its products and services, the governments will further realize the need of well-established regulations where ever needed in near future, and the sooner it is the better.

A national strategy supported by strong and stable regulatory framework for the IoT/Smart Cities, if designed and implemented correctly, would maximize the opportunity for the Internet of Things to deliver substantial social and economic benefits.

Over-the-Top (OTT) & Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Services

The conventional mode of communication has been replaced by the new third-party applications etc. that includes Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook, Line and many other over-the-top services. There are mainly three types of disruptive OTT Services i.e. Communications, Application and Video Content.

The Need for Futuristic ICT Policy & Regulatory Frameworks

OTTs are portraying huge threat to the traditional telecom services while creating many regulatory imbalances for the operators. Other broad public policy issues regarding all types of OTTs include impact on economy and security issues due to reliance on third party. The following chart as outlined by the International Telecommunication Unit (ITU) includes just some of the regulatory imbalances created by OTTs these days:

The Need for Futuristic ICT Policy & Regulatory Frameworks

Other than this, some fundamental policy issues presently faced by all mobile networks are the frequency spectrum, infrastructure obligations and regulatory levies for them whereas, OTTs do not come under these rules. This is why, it is the right time that the governments come up with an appropriate regulatory frameworks for OTTs in order to avoid these imbalances.

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FCC, PTA, Ofcom, IDA and TRAI, all are in process to develop frameworks for OTTs as the major hindrance of OTT growth is the lack of regulation. GSMA and ITU have also outlined some key recommendations to regulatory authorities in order to incorporate OTT regulations and policies including:

(i) According to GSMA, the starting point for the development of suitable regulatory framework for OTTs is actually first to define the foundation for classification of OTTs either as Communications Service Providers or as Application Service Providers.

There will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020 that will generate almost US$900 billion revenues & an expected demand of course will be requiring a harmonized policy and regulatory framework – IDC

(ii) Develop a balanced regulatory framework (dealing with taxes issue etc.) that can support both telcos and revolution of OTTs

(iii) Devise policy on net neutrality

(iv) Ratify laws specially for consumer privacy and data protection

Mostly, the regulators are in process to develop a comprehensive policy & regulatory policy for OTTs and presently are working on consultation papers for this purpose.

m-Services

Technology is transforming the way we conduct our daily life activities. Similarly, mobile phones have entered in to almost every sector of human life including commerce, health, agriculture, education and banking and last but not the least government sector as well.

The Need for Futuristic ICT Policy & Regulatory Frameworks

With these latest innovations, human life has become much easier today. Let’s discuss how our selected telecom regulators are taking advantage of it in their respective countries.

m-Commerce

PTA and State Bank of Pakistan have issued two sets of regulatory frameworks for branchless banking to facilitate mobile operators, Fintechs and other service providers. Pakistan is amongst the first few countries where m-Commerce was launched and is quite successful. Whereas in US, FTC as primary agency regulates the ecommerce activities & protect the consumer’s right. This includes regulations for a number of e-commerce activities such as commercial email, online advertising & consumer privacy.

A national strategy supported by strong and stable regulatory framework for the IoT/Smart Cities would maximize the opportunity for the IoT to deliver substantial social and economic benefits

UK also has well-developed Regulations for e-Commerce called “Electronic Commerce Regulations 2002” that are actually the EU’s laws. This Directive is introduced to harmonize & clarify the rules of e-business throughout Europe to boost up consumer confidence.

In Singapore, Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) formed a Financial Technology & Innovation Group (FTIG) to drive the Smart Financial Centre initiatives. FTIG is responsible for formulating regulatory policies & developing strategies to facilitate the use of technology and innovation to better manage risks, enhance efficiency, and strengthen competitiveness in the financial sector. So, there is proper legislation for e-Commerce that covers rules for all m-Commerce related activity.

India has recently formulated the FDI policy for e-commerce industry whereas, online payment legal regime is still missing in India. Presently, the Startup India initiative, launched by the Government of India in January 2016, has dedicated a US$1.5 billion fund to support startups.

m-Governance

Mobile technology is also significantly expanding governments’ capacity to produce benefits and deliver outcomes for government and its respective citizens and businesses alike. At the same time, it has made positive impact on overall national economic growth of the countries. It ensures that electronic services are available to people via mobile devices.

Pakistan is amongst the first few countries where m-Commerce was launched quite early and is now presented as a major success story

M-Governance initiatives in Pakistan mostly come under the domain Provincial IT Boards that are responsible for regulation and development of such services. However, the task of technology development and how it interacts with government and other service sectors such as law enforcement, health, education etc., would still require MoITT & PTA to work with other eco-system partners. The PTA Vision document 2025 and the MoITT Policy Document lays a strategic focus on ICTs to promote innovation and creativity for governance. It would need to create an in-depth regulatory framework and work in collaboration with other entities such as PMDC, HEC, NEPRA & DGPI, and Provincial IT Boards etc.

In the US, USA.gov is established to create and organize timely needed government information and services and make them accessible anytime, anywhere via mobile or computer. USA.gov is legislatively mandated through Section 204 of the E-Government Act of 2002. Presently, US has the award winning digital approach in the world. UK has also a separate entity called, “Government Digital Service (GDS)” which is part of Cabinet Office and aims at digital transformation of government. UK has introduced several m-Governance initiatives for the public.

FCC, PTA, Ofcom, IDA and TRAI all are in process to develop frameworks for OTTs as the major hindrance of OTT growth is the lack of regulation

IDA developed its eGov2015 Masterplan which has ensured 100% digital govt. in Singapore whereas, the Government under its “Infocomm Media 2025” plan has further plans to connect each government department with its public via smartphone.

m-Health

With the growing use of mobile phones, the gadgets have also intervened into the medical sciences field. A global survey of 114 nations undertaken by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that many countries have established m-Health initiatives in last few years, realizing that mobile can play very effective role in health services.

The Need for Futuristic ICT Policy & Regulatory Frameworks

Again, m-Health issues in Pakistan relate to state governments and provincial IT Boards are responsible for regulations and development of these services. However, the task of technology development and how it interacts with other services sectors such as health would still require PTA to work with other ECO-System partners. PTA & Provincial IT Boards would need to work with PMDC and the Pakistan Standards organization in addition to medical research and Teaching Institutes to create clearer regulatory frameworks for m-Health services to develop in more harmonized manner.

There is a need to create more in-depth regulatory frameworks and this will need close collaboration with all regultory bodies, Industry and the Provincial Governments

In the USA, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the FCC all together have shared jurisdiction over some parts of the federal regulation of mHealth. In 2012, FCC has approved Mobile Body Area Network (MBAN), which allocates an electromagnetic spectrum for personal medical devices. In addition to this, FTC simultaneously released its own business guidance that aims at helping health app developers fulfil with the FTC Act for building privacy and security. Whereas, in UK, there is still regulatory uncertainty around m-Health apps and wearables but it is still a very fast growing industry with Ofcom expectations to raise it to £2.9bn by 2018.

Singapore is no doubt a very technologically advance country. It has recently introduced many m-health initiatives while mainly focusing on mobile apps that can help individuals but as far as a crystal clear framework is concerned, IDA lacks supporting policy for m-Health.  The leading mobile operator Singtel is contributing to m-Health efforts by offering its 3G/GPRS network. While there are organizations like “Napier Healthcare” that are presently working in this this filed.

m-health is having a significant impact globally on the delivery of healthcare but most regulators around the world are still uncertain how to address this phenomenon

Over 150 countries have yet to develop m-health regulatory frameworks or guidance.

m-Education

Like m-governance and m-Health, reach and quality education has also become a top area of concern for the Government of Pakistan with more than 48 million school children in the education system and the same number out of it. Various educational application have been developed by public and private sector of Pakistan but no formal regulatory framework exist to regulate any of m-education service activities primarily because education is more a provincial subject and is non-standard for most parts. Some services has started to emerge such as school attendance system etc., but it would help if a more coordinated approach is taken between the educational managers that includes IT Boards, Education Regulators and PTA. India is also opting for m-Education to bridge the wide gap but is still in the early stages of introducing it in some of its provinces and lacks a proper regulatory framework.

m-health is having a significant impact globally on the delivery of healthcare but most regulators around the world are still uncertain how to address this phenomenon. Over 150 countries have yet to develop mhealth regulatory frameworks or guidance

In the USA, mobile learning technology has witnessed a huge growth, FCC has recently updated regulations initially instituted in the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) & Communication Act to incorporate m-Education. Also there is a digital curriculum designed under the National Education Technology Plan 2010 that provides institutions with best smart syllabuses.

The issue of separate regulatory framework for media and telecom is quite a significant challenge for Pakistan

Singapore has a well-established policy framework for mEducation. [email protected], is a government-led initiative that aims to enhance the range of educational offerings to help the learners with technology and integrate it into the delivery of materials. Apart from western countries, the most appreciable efforts in this regard are from the government of Singapore. Its Masterplan for ICT in Education (1997–2002) was first of its kind that was developed and now modified in 2014 while incorporating the use of mobile phones along with other technologies for betterment of education sector.

m-Content & Live Broadcasting

While, m-content and live broadcasting has gained popularity worldwide but in recent years it has also gained momentum in Pakistan. The fundamental challenges for live broadcasting include the lack of knowledge in the use and availability of content in local language, loose copyright enforcement, literacy and low broadband penetration (that is now seeing improvement especially after 3G/4G launch). The issue of having separate regulatory frameworks for media and telecom and a lack of clearly defined legal and regulatory framework for online content is quite a significant challenge for Pakistan. This phenomenon has further been intensified due to the blasphemous content that generally gets uploaded on social sites, making the task of creating on-line content regulations even more difficult. Recently, Pakistan has come up with its first ever Cyber Crime Law which is a step towards regulating the online content to some extent.

As per the Telecom Policy 2015, PTA now manages content over the internet through integrated licenses or ISPs as per its licensing conditions under the Act. MoITT has recommended to the Government to authorize PTA to determine the characteristics of content irrespective of the channel used for its supply. PTA will have to consider the characteristics of each channel in determining how to manage its content which it will do under a well-defined framework. The government has recently tasked PTA, PEMRA and other Government organizations to draft clearer direction for on-line content.

Whereas, in USA,  FCC has amended its “Communication Act” and added all rules for relevant areas of live broadcasting including digital TV, broadcast journalism, its licensing process etc. Similarly, in UK, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code outlines the rules for this area.

Interestingly, Singapore has a very efficient and forward looking entity that is in charge of on-line as well as broadcasting content under one roof. The broadcast sector of Singapore is regulated by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore. IMDA monitors local and global market trends, developments and regulatory measures. They believe in remaining technology-neutral, to ensure that policies and regulatory frameworks are effective and relevant. IMDA seeks to shape a market that benefits consumers through greater choices and the proliferation of innovative products, services and content.

Conclusion

While, Policies are basically a broad concept that embodies many dimensions, the actual challenge is how well the governments articulate the future regulatory frameworks in a comprehensible way to safeguard the future. The coming years are likely to see even greater momentum in the information and communication technologies and only well-prepared telecom regulatory authorities will get benefit from it and witness an economic boom. Pakistan can use these examples to learn and develop its own regulatory frameworks for ICTs on priority bases. The future is all about technologies and its usage for the betterment of consumers hence, only those nations will manage to take advantage of such opportunities that have effective regulatory frameworks for it.

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