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Aspen Dispatch: Over There, Telecom Markets and Policy Abroad

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ASPEN, COLORADO, August 19 - Five nations, three continents, and a host of perspectives on telecom policy converged for the final panel of the 2008 Aspen Summit. Convening for a final engagement on the state of communication technologies markets and policies, lead by US Ambassador David Gross, some of the most prominent communications policy makers from Mexico, Spain, Germany and Japan discussed the way forward for governments seeking to unlock innovation around the world.

Ambassador Gross, the US coordinator for international communications and information policy at the Department of State and valuable diplomat for the US' image abroad, convened this prominent group of international policy makers and exposed the Summit audience to the experiences of ICT business operators and policy players "over there."

Beginning with The Honorable Francisco Ros Peran, the Secretary of State for Telecommunications and the Information Society of Spain, the panel examined the evolving role of regulators in the new converged environment. For Secretary of State Ros, the policy framework in Spain has also converged and he quickly became responsible for the policy of the broadband, wireless, telephone and broadcast television industries. Likewise, his budget increased 4-fold and a great deal of these funds were invested in developing a national broadband network that now covers the vast majority of Spain.

Matthias Kurth, the President of the federal utilities agency in Germany and an adviser to the European Commission on spectrum issues, focused on broadband connectivity in his county and discussed his solidarity with Mr. Peran in their opposition to the appointment of an EU-level telecom regulator. In Germany, the regulator has over-seen a major unbundling initiative of the incumbent Deutsche Telecom (DT), an effort heralded by Mr. Kurth for delivering increased competition to the DSL and sector and partially instigating DT's recent fiber roll-out. However, his administration is currently faced with questions over unbundling regulation: should it continue in a now competitive DSL sector and is it feasible for the fiber sector?

"In Mexico, we envy the situation of my colleagues in Spain and Germany," commented Dr. Rafael del Villar Alrich, the Under Secretary of Communications for the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation in Mexico. Dr. del Villar's nation has struggled to achieve the kind of broadband connectivity and wireless coverage that he believes is necessary to compete globally. Moving forward, Mexico also faces some key policy decisions - Dr. del Villar summarized his dilemma: "The fact that unbundling worked in Germany and not in the US makes things confusing for us..."

lt appears there is much less confusion in Japan, a country championed for its first-class broadband connectivity defined by the fastest speeds and the lowest prices in the world, according to the praises of Ambassador Gross and many audience members. However, Eiji Makiguchi, the Director of the International Economic Affairs Dvision withing the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) in Japan, made it clear that difficult policy decisions lay ahead for a nation that plans to rev-up its efforts to innovate through its Competition Promotion Program for 2010 [PDF]. Some of the key regulatory and legislative initiatives embedded in the program and discussed by Mr. Makiguchi include the promotion of facilities-based competitors like WIMAX, reforms to network access charges, an overhaul of the Universal Service Fund, legal convergence to eliminate uneccesary laws across the information and communication sector, and the allocation of additional spectrum.

All of the international delegates were able to convey to the Summit audience the unique challenges of telecom markets abroad where incomes may be prohibitively lower (Mexico), where unbundling proved a successful policy tool (Germany), where large-scale government investment in communications networks is politically feasible (Spain), where an initiative to unbundle the fiber sector is underway (Japan), and where Cable is not a significant market player (all of these nations). Despite these differences, it was clear that policy makers and business leaders in the US aren't the only ones concerned with finding the keys to innovation.

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