Guidelines for universal access and universal service in Western Africa

1  Creating an enabling regulatory and policy environment

1.1. Governments must, at the highest level, identify ICT as a tool for socio-economic development. In doing so, government should designate a national focal point (Ministry, government department, personality) for ICT development.

1.2. National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) must be established and capacitated to play a key role in implementing universal access policies first through addressing the market efficiency gap (letting the market deliver universal access/service), and second through the true access gap. NRAs should be responsible for implementing policies directed towards assuring the best quality reliable services at the most affordable prices that meet the needs of consumers existing and future.

1.3. Governments and NRAs must undertake to develop their communications frameworks through sector, intuitional and legislation reform which is in line with international best practices, but sufficiently tailored to meet local requirements.

1.4. Governments and NRAs must include all citizens, and in so doing must engender their universal access/service policies and must include all elements of the population regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic level or geographic location.

2 Designing policies and determining regulatory reform measures

2.1. Countries should formulate a national policy that identifies appropriate and realistic universal access/service objectives that take into account the differences between universal access (public access to ICTs) and universal service (household or private access to ICTs).

2.2. Countries should conduct periodic public consultations to the extent possible with stakeholders to identify their needs and modify universal access/service policies, regulation and practices accordingly.

2.3. Countries should design universal access/service policies, regulations and practices in order to create incentives for the private sector to extend universal access to communications services.

2.4. Countries should use a multi-pronged approach to addressing universal access/service challenges and opportunities: they should rely on complementary strategies to meet the objectives targets that have been set out.

2.5. Countries should establish a fair and transparent telecommunication regulatory framework that promotes universal access to ICTs. Allow the market to address universal access/service to the greatest extent possible and only intervene where the market has, or is anticipated to, fail. This includes:

2.5.1. Promoting technologically neutral licensing practices enabling service providers to use the most cost-effective technology to provide services for end users.

2.5.2. Adopting a transparent and non-discriminatory interconnection framework of interconnection rates linked to costs.

2.5.3. Reducing regulatory burdens to lower the costs of providing services to end users.

2.5.4. Promoting competition in the provision of a full range of ICT services to increase access, affordability, availability and use of ICTs.

2.6. Where it is necessary for NRAs and policymakers to intervene to facilitate the delivery of universal access/service:

2.6.1. Public access strategies should be explored in addition to private, universal service, strategies.

2.6.2. Both pay and play strategies should be employed, but where possible operators should be incentivised to roll out to rural, remote and low-income populations and areas.

2.6.3. Countries can use regulatory reform as the first step in achieving universal access, recognizing that further steps may be necessary to achieve ubiquitous access to ICTs (in rural areas or to users with special needs, for example).

2.6.4. Appropriate licensing schemes for rural service providers could be granted to meet the needs of un-served and under-served areas.

3 Promoting innovative regulatory policies

3.1. Promotion of access to low cost broadband interconnectivity should be integrated from the local level to the international level. Governments, business, non-governmental organizations and international organizations should be involved.

3.2. Countries should adopt regulatory frameworks that support applications such as e-education and e-government.

3.3. Countries should adopt policies to increase access to the Internet and broadband services based on their own market structure and to reflect diversity in culture, language and social interests.

3.4. NRAs should consider working with stakeholders to expand coverage and use of broadband through multi-stakeholder partnerships. In addition, complementary government initiatives that promote financially sustainable programs may also be appropriate, especially in filling in the market gap that may exist in some countries.

3.5. Adoption of regulatory regimes that facilitate the use of all transport mechanisms, whether wireline, power line, cable, wireless, including WiFi, or satellite.

3.6. NRAs should explore programs that encourage public access to broadband and Internet services to schools, libraries and other community centres.

3.7. NRAs should implement harmonized spectrum allocations consistent with the outcome of ITU Radiocommunication Conference process and each country’s national interest. Participation in this well-established framework will facilitate low-cost deployment of equipment internationally and promote low-cost broadband and Internet connectivity through economies of scale and competition among broadband vendors and service providers.

4 Access to information and communication infrastructures

4.1. Services should be provided in a competitive framework, using new technologies that offer both innovative services and affordable pricing options.

4.2. Promote affordable ICT equipment could include national manufacturing of ICT equipment, reduced customs tariffs and duties, and end-user loans to foster affordability of ICT equipment.

4.3. A full range of public access options can be developed, including the creation of public telecentres and multi-purpose community centres.

4.4. Local input (including the content useful for local populations) into projects increases their relevance and therefore their long-term financial sustainability.

4.5. Education and training programmes should be instituted to encourage the use and impact of ICTs on local people on the benefits of ICTs and their use increases their long-term financial sustainability.

5 Finance and management of universal access policies

5.1. Any funding or subsidies provided must be targeted and determined and delivered in a manner that is transparent, non-discriminatory, inexpensive, and competitively neutral.

5.2. Subsidies must be targeted.

5.3. Subsidies can be provided using several means including:

5.3.1. Universal service funds should be developed as a mechanism within a broader market-oriented approach to achieving universal access.

5.3.2. Universal service funds can be financed by a broad range of market players, managed by neutral bodies such as regulators, and be used to kick-start public access projects that meet the needs of the local community.

5.3.3. Governments may consider a full range of other financing mechanisms.

5.3.4. Competitive minimum subsidy auctions could be used, as an option, to reduce the amount of financing necessary for public access projects financed by a universal service fund.

5.3.5. Public access projects can be designed to achieve long-term financial self-sustainability, especially where consideration is given to innovative low-cost technologies.

6 Cooperation

6.1. Cooperation must be explored on several levels:

6.1.1. Between the private sector and communities so that where possible the market can deliver universal access/service.

6.1.2. Between communities, governments and the private sector to ensure that the access gap is deal t with in a manner that is relevant to communities.

6.1.3. Within government to ensure that the full benefits of ICTs, beyond infrastructure and technology, and extending to health, education, agriculture and other sectors are accrued.

7 Monitoring and reviewing policies

7.1. Countries should adopt measurable targets for improving connectivity and access in the use of ICTs which can be based on distance, population density or time taken to have access to ICTs .

7.2. Countries should review universal access/service policies, regulations, targets and practices periodically to adapt to the evolving nature of ICT services and the needs of end users.

8 Emergency service

8. Countries should endeavour to provide free access to emergency service from end user terminals where practicable.

Source: West African Common Market Project: Harmonization of Policies Governing the ICT Market in the UEMOA-ECOWAS Space: Final Guidelines (ITU, September 2005)

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