Chapter 1 translations
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This module explores key aspects of universal access and service (UAS) for information and communication technologies (ICTs). The value and importance of ICTs cuts across all other sectors of the economy. ICTs are recognized as a pillar of modern society, as no other sector seems to work efficiently without them. Diverse sectors such as governance, education, health, business, finance and tourism are critically dependent upon information and communications. Also, no country, irrespective of its economic status, can ignore the trend towards ubiquitous use of ICTs. This is why the term enabler is often used to describe ICTs.
This module is structured as follows:
- Chapter 1 is an introduction to UAS;
- Chapter 2 gives an overview of regulatory reform which is the first vital step of increasing UAS using market mechanisms and good regulation;
- Chapter 3 introduces the main approaches and specific UAS instruments, policies and interventions that policy-makers and regulators can use beyond sector reform;
- Chapter 4 discusses details of UAS policy development, its framework and process;
- Chapter 5 explains financing issues related to UAS and financial analyses;
- Chapter 6 outlines details of UAS programme development and economic analysis, in particular for project prioritization;
- Chapter 7 describes the competition process of awarding subsidies for the provision of UAS by operators and service providers; and;
- Chapter 8 gives an overview of technology issues and trends that are particular relevant for UAS.
Chapter 1 provides information that is critical to understanding the basic concepts of universal access (UA) and universal service (US), the progress being made towards UAS internationally, the rationale behind UAS policy, international trends and developments, and integration of UAS for ICTs with other national policies and programmes.
Origins of universal service
Historically, the term and concept of US existed before UA. US for telephone service, first mentioned in the 1934 Communications Act of the United States, describes the concept of affordability of telephone services, as well as its universal availability for households desiring that service. UA is focussed on public, community or shared access to telecommunications.
US only came to the forefront with the advent of market liberalization and sector reform. For example, specific aims for serving all reasonable demands for basic telephony service were formulated in 1984 with British Telecom’s privatization. Prior to that, affordable service for all was an implicit obligation by the management of the state-owned enterprise, similar to the situation in many other countries.
Market liberalization and competition triggered a debate on US, surrounding the key questions of how to achieve it in a deregulated environment, how much US costs, and who shall bear the costs. The debate distinguished between the goal of US and the means of achieving it, while acknowledging that telephone service is an important basic right, essential for social cohesion and economic development. Since then, tremendous strides have been made towards achieving US and in many countries it is a reality.
Universal service and access today
The concepts of US and UA to telecommunications and ICT are distinct. US refers to service at the individual or household level, e.g., typically a telephone in each home. UA refers to a publicly shared level of service, e.g., through public payphones or Internet telecentres. However, they are also intrinsically linked to each other, as UA is the pre-cursor for US.
In the past, developing countries typically focussed mostly on universal access (UA), meaning community and publicly shared access, as UA was the appropriate and most feasible target. However, since the maturation of mobile communications, which extended services further and lowered access barriers to take up, many developing countries might realistically target US for telephony in urban areas. And also, in addition to setting UA targets for rural areas, the objective of increasing rural penetration can be set.
ICTs include both telephony and Internet, and some countries are at the stage where they have achieved UA to telephony and their goal is to achieve US, while in the Internet realm their goal is UA. Thus, their policy is no longer solely focussed on UA but on both UA and US.
In the more developed world which previously had US policy goals, the onset of broadband has led to re-use of the term UA. It is often recognized that universal availability of broadband services may not necessarily yield universal service-like household penetration for many reasons, though the provision of affordable access is an important goal.
As the reality in more and more countries relates to both UA and US, it makes sense to use the generic term universal access and service (UAS).
Thus, this module of the toolkit will refer to both terms with a focus on addressing UAS in the context of developing countries and emerging markets, while also drawing on best practice and experience in the developed world.
Scope of universal access and service
While US was once reserved for basic voice communications, UAS policies and strategies go beyond telephony, and include at least data and Internet communications, and increasingly look towards broadband communication. Traditionally, broadcasting has not been a part of UAS, but is now regarded as part of ICTs, in particular as the underlying technologies and delivery mechanism between telecommunications and broadcasting are converging. First models of how to include broadcasting in UAS policies are explored. However, media laws and policies have fundamentally different requirements which go beyond affordable access and service. Their focus is on a diversity of content providers, quality content development, pluralism and independent news reporting, choice and media freedom, and media ethics and control against illegal and harmful media content. These content elements have traditionally not been part of UAS for telecommunications. As a consequence, developing UAS requirements for broadcasting is breaking new ground.
Increasingly, UAS policy needs to be as forward-looking as possible and include broadband developments, the move towards a next-generation network (NGN) environment and address issues of convergence. The future challenges for policymakers are how to address the increased requirements and complexities of UAS while at the same time having UAS policies and programmes that achieve their goals quickly and efficiently. This Toolkit is intended to inform and support policymakers and UAS policy implementers to meet this challenge.