Over the past five to ten years, a number of countries have introduced large-scale reform of their authorization regimes. In the E.U., for example, the 2003 Authorisation Directive has brought major changes to the authorization practices of member countries. Compliance with the Authorisation Directive required some E.U. member countries to make major changes to their authorization regimes. New legislation or regulations have been enacted to transition the member states’ regulatory frameworks to a general authorization regime.
More recently, a number of countries have transitioned from service- and technology-specific licensing regimes to more neutral frameworks that feature unified or multi-service authorizations. Hong Kong China, Jordan, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, India, and Trinidad and Tobago are among the countries that have recently adopted new unified or multi-service authorization regimes. In some cases, the transition to a unified or multi-service authorization regime is accompanied by the introduction of a general authorization framework.
Countries have taken different approaches to introducing changes to the authorization regime. However, one common practice is the use of public consultations. The introduction of new authorization regimes is almost always preceded by a public consultation on issues related to changing the regime. Regulators seek feedback from industry stakeholders on a variety of matters, including:
- the proposed licensing framework;
- the types of authorizations to be issued in the new regime;
- the terms and conditions of the proposed new authorizations;
- the proposed process for issuing authorizations;
- the schedule for implementing the new regime; and
- the transition to the new licensing regime.
In a number of cases, including Hong Kong China, Kenya, and India, for example, the public consultation had more than one phase. Different issues were tackled at different stages of the consultation process. A multi-stage consultation process has several advantages. The introduction of a new authorization regime raises many complex issues; conducting the consultation in several stages allows the regulator to manage the issues better. A multi-stage consultation also avoids overwhelming the regulator and industry stakeholders with information, data, and proposals. Finally, in a multi-stage consultation process, the regulator can better focus the consultation at each stage. For example, once the regulator has received feedback on the basic structure of an integrated licensing regime and has made a determination about the structure, subsequent consultations can focus on how this particular structure should be implemented. Stakeholders do not have to address the implementation of various proposed frameworks; they can focus their comments on the framework that has been tentatively adopted.
Regulators have taken different approaches to transitioning existing licensees to a new authorization regime. In some cases, existing licensees are required to migrate to the new authorization regime. This migration may occur automatically, by deeming that existing licensees have complied with all necessary requirements to obtain a new authorization (e.g., Estonia), through a conversion process led by the regulator (e.g., South Africa), or by requiring existing licensee to apply for a new authorization (e.g., Ireland).
In other cases, existing licensees have the option to continue to operate under the licence procured under the old regime until the end of the term of that licence or to transfer immediately to the new authorization regime. If licensees opt to continue to operate under their existing licence, they must convert to the new authorization regime when their existing licence expires. Botswana has taken this approach to the introduction of its multi-service authorization regime.
Where licensees have the option of migrating to the new authorization regime immediately or at the end of the term of their existing authorization, regulators may provide incentives for early migration. Incentives include the reduction or waiver of initial authorization fees and the grant of the new authorization on the basis of a full term rather than a term adjusted to reflect the years that the licensee has already held the existing authorization. In some cases, the opportunity to obtain a multi-service or unified authorization may be sufficient incentive in and of itself since such an authorization enables the licensee to provide a broader range of services.
Regardless of what approach is ultimately adopted to manage the transition to the new authorization regime, it is common (and advisable) for regulators to provide ample information to industry stakeholders about the transition process. By maintaining open and clear communication about the transition, regulators can ensure that the new regime is implemented in a transparent manner that bolsters the confidence of investors in the ICT sector.
Regulators have provided stakeholders with information in a variety of ways. Many regulators hold public meetings in which they explain the key features of the new authorization regime and outline the process of transition. Regulators also issue media releases to increase awareness of the transition. In addition regulators publish information on their website in order to facilitate the implementation of the new regime. Examples of information that regulators have published include: short summaries of the new authorization framework; guidelines to the new licensing process; instructions for applying for authorizations under the new framework; instructions to existing licensees for how to migrate to the new regime; flow charts that illustrate the application process under the new regime; summaries of the terms and conditions of the new forms of authorization; copies of presentations and speeches about the new regime that were given at public meetings; and answers to commonly asked questions about the new regime and the process of transition.