Recognizing the need to promote competition in the telecommunications sector, regulators are encouraged to undertake measures to stimulate private sector involvement and also protect consumers. 

The discussion took place during the APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group (TEL) meeting, when officials met on Saturday in a workshop to build awareness about related legislation and share best practices.

A better environment in which telecommunications companies can compete will help foster innovative growth in the region, a priority for APEC Russia 2012, said Shoji Mihara, Convenor of the Liberalization Steering Group.

“TEL’s strategic action plan for telecommunications prioritizes regional economic integration through the active participation in projects and by facilitating the streamlining of regulatory measures that encourage competition and investment in the market,” he explained. “It is very useful to discuss telecom competition policy issues to address the challenges as well as to promote further innovation of technology and consumer welfare.”

“Now, each economy seems to be facing common challenges to promote an open and free telecom environment through the establishment of the effective competition measures,” Mihara added.

This workshop is an example of cooperation to share information on the policies and regulations that facilitate the development of free and open markets in the APEC region. Hong Kong, China; Japan; Malaysia; Singapore; Chinese Taipei and a consumer representative from the International Telecommunications Users Group compared competition frameworks, which contribute to lower prices for consumers, confidence and better service.

Malaysia reported that they regulate upstream markets to promote competition in downstream markets. However, this does not make downstream regulation any less important, but they try not to intervene at retail levels.

"Downstream providers are able to set market rates but if they fail to adhere to the principles of rate setting as provided for under the law, the Minister could intervene, but so far that has not happened," said Nur Sulyna Abdullah, vice-chair of the APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group.

The broad principles are similar across the strait. The regulatory framework in Singapore is designed to promote competition, ensure acceptable service quality and protect consumers but also to provide a strong incentive to attract innovative companies that complement locally-based enterprises and start-ups.

“Competition forces service providers to focus on customers’ needs and benefits,” said Jason Teo, International Manager with Singapore’s Infocomm Development Agency.

Teo pointed out, “Effective and sustainable competition would require collaborative efforts between the industry and the regulators. Industry self-regulation or co-regulation should be encouraged. We believe that the industry can also play a major role in detecting anti-competitive behaviour.”

Consumer groups believe that more choices in the market are not enough. It is also important to stimulate better pricing.

“We would like for regulators to set regimes that encourage investments but balance the need for overbuilding in particular areas to make the best use of the network we have,” said Paul Brislen who represents the International Telecommunications User Group.

“Competition has to roll throughout the stack – including retail.”

Open to collaboration with other international organizations, the group is seeking to develop an APEC Telecom Competition Policy Guide for policymakers and regulators that will provide best practices on which to draw when faced with similar concerns across the region.

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