[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….