Regulating Telecommunications

The proposed new Telecommunications Bill is not a perfect document. But Vanuatu is not a perfect place. Considering the limited resources it can bring to bear, the great gains it’s made in improving communications nationwide are truly commendable.

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

Last Thursday, members of the IT industry, researchers and interested members of the public got together with Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Utilities to discuss proposed new laws governing Vanuatu’s burgeoning telecommunications sector.

At issue was a Bill to define the precise role of the Telecommunications Regulator. Designed to supplement the existing Telecommunications Act of 1989, it outlines in detail the extent of the Regulator’s mandate to influence the newly-liberalised telecoms market.

The draft Bill describes an environment wherein the Regulator has wide latitude to impose his will on telecoms operators if they misbehave. Among other things, he can enforce fair and equitable access to rare or unique infrastructure (known as bottleneck resources), he can intervene if telecoms operators are deemed to be offering preferential or prejudicial prices to others and if necessary he can enforce tariff or pricing regimes on carriers if they don’t play fair.

Viewed in the light of their exemplary track record, the draft Bill reflects well on both the Ministry and the Regulator. To date, their attitude has been to let market forces work with little if any intervention. They have nonetheless made sure that the regulatory stick they hold in reserve holds real clout. The proposed Bill gives this all the force of law. Rather than relying in the language of various negotiated agreements, they’ve outlined a set of rules that applies to anyone and everyone operating in the telecoms sector.

Others aren’t so sure that a big regulatory stick is such a good thing….

Read more “Regulating Telecommunications”

The Rules

As long as clear rules exist around ownership, trade and the economic environment in general, a well-run company will be able to find its way – and possibly to thrive – under just about any regime.

But a company that can’t predict what will happen tomorrow can’t plan effectively. And a company that can’t plan finds itself scrambling from one day to the next. It finds that it can’t commit – neither to its customers nor to its staff. When this uncertainty becomes generalised, with nobody willing or able to say what tomorrow holds, the business climate worsens all round.

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

There is only one thing worse than a badly played football match: a badly refereed match.

What makes a bad referee? Players the world over agree that it’s not strictness or laxity; what makes a referee really bad is when he’s inconsistent and unpredictable. The ref consistently calls offsides in favour of the defence? Not great for the strikers, but a team can adjust and try different approaches to the net. The ref calls them consistently in favour of the offence? Drop the zone defence and mark your man carefully.

But when neither team knows how the play will be called, it creates uncertainty, which leads to sloppy play and sometimes a little opportunistic cheating, hoping that this time the ref won’t call a questionable play.

This principle applies everywhere. In numerous business surveys, company leaders consistently report that continuity and predictability in economic management and government affairs matter more to them than the economic structures themselves.

Read more “The Rules”

Policing Piracy

The Australian government recently announced that it was taking the issue of Internet piracy very seriously. They were, according to reports, considering their own version of a British proposal to require Internet Service Providers to cut off so-called ‘repeat offenders’. People who were suspected of deliberately and repeatedly downloading unauthorised music and video files would have their Internet accounts suspended.

This is a commendable goal. Respect for the creative works of others is at a low ebb these days. We need to alter our cavalier approach to copyright and to properly reward those who spend their time and effort in creating the music, movies, software and other creations we so enjoy.
Read more “Policing Piracy”