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Shall we regulate together? Insights on the workings of a multi-national telecommunications regulatory mechanism

… Through the pooling of limited resources, a regional approach to telecommunications regulation could be beneficial to groups of smaller nations.

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The creation of a multinational telecommunications regulatory machinery was unprecedented prior to 2000. Accordingly, the ground-breaking arrangement instituted by five nations in the Eastern Caribbean has been a source of keen interest worldwide, for possible application among other regional groups.

The regulatory structure of these five nations – Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – comprises the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) and five separate National Telecommunication Regulatory Commissions (NTRCs).

Exhibit 1: Arrangement of the regulatory machinery in the Eastern Caribbean

For the most part, ECTEL’s role to the NTRCs and member countries is advisory, and to ensure that harmonised policies, systems and frameworks are instituted where needed. However, more importantly and in practice, as the repository of technical expertise that would not be readily available within the NTRCs, it is also expected to provide some form of leadership to the local bodies, when needed. Specifically, it should help them navigate the complex issues that recently-liberalised telecommunications sectors would have to address.

This unique regional approach to telecoms regulation can face certain challenges, especially in the relationship between the local entities and the regional hub. Through the benefit of the ECTEL experience to date, these challenges appear to fall into two general categories: (i) logistical/administrative and (ii) those arising from the human element within the system, some of which are summarised in the table below.

Exhibit 2: Summary of challenges of a group approach to telecommunications regulation [Source: Network Strategies]

Logistical / administrative challenges Human element challenges
Delays in supplying advice / recommendations / policies, etc, especially in time-sensitive situations. Administrators and technocrats within the machinery being uncooperative.
Concerns on the relevance and competence of the advice / recommendations / policies, etc. Neglect of the spirit and intendment of the initial arrangement.
The effects of balancing the individual needs of the members against the priorities of the whole. The introduction of separate support systems to minimise the impact of perceived deficiencies.
The extent the regional body should be actually involved in regulation or be seen as the regulator. The active lobbying for the reduction in the influence of the regional body on “national” or “local” issues.

Although there are benefits to sovereignty, especially as they pertain to establishing and maintaining a unique national identity, smaller territories often experience great difficulty when interacting with larger, greater-resourced entities, to ensure that their interests are considered to achieve mutually beneficial results. With regard to the ECTEL approach to telecommunications, to date, this initiative has yielded many benefits to its members, which include:

  • the establishment of a single telecommunications space among the territories, with common policies, procedures, tariffs and rates
  • economies of scope and the cost benefits derived from creating a single repository for technical expertise, which cannot be replicated in the individual territories, and ensuring that the relevant expertise is available and can be readily accessed
  • increasing the countries’ leverage as a block of nations, especially when negotiating with large telecommunications companies, and the legitimacy of regulatory process
  • increasing the solidarity among the nations as they work towards a common goal, which further strengthens regional ties and ongoing integration efforts.

Through the pooling of limited resources, a regional approach to telecommunications regulation could be beneficial to groups of smaller nations. However, careful study would be needed to devise a structure to achieve the desired objectives, but minimise the effect of the challenges likely to arise from such an arrangement.

November 2007


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