Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The possibility of leapfrogging telecommunication regulation

I put Cuban telecommunication regulation in context in a previous post. The International Telecommunication Union defines four general generations of regulation and Cuba is stuck at the first generation. But going forward, Cuban regulation does not have to recapitulate the evolution of the last twenty years -- it is possible to leapfrog to fourth or fifth generation regulation.

At the recent Global Symposium for Regulators, Sofie Maddens presented a paper on fifth generation regulation (slides). The goal of fifth generation regulation is collaborative telecommunication regulation with other sectors to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals." She defined the role of fifth generation regulation as follows:
The interconnected nature of digital societies across the sectors means that there is a need for collaboration between government and industry operators, as well as between regulators across the sectors to provide effective responses to issues arising in networked communication flow. Today, regulators and policy makers are starting to define the foundation as well as the platforms and mechanisms for collaborative regulation with other sectors such as health, finance, education, energy.
She recognizes what Ithiel de Sola Pool told us twenty years ago -- telecommunication infrastructure planning is implicit social planning.

I am not optimistic that Cuba will skip to this enlightened position -- the entrenched bureaucracy and the power ETECSA are formidable barriers -- but Cuba does have a few things going for it.

For one thing, the party line for over 50 years has lauded equity and sharing and those values must have gained some traction in Cuban society and culture. Cubans have been sharing by nature and of necessity for some time -- before Airbnb there were casas particulares, paladares, carros particulares and el Paquete Semanal.

The historic emphasis on education and health care also bodes well for an Internet focused on sustainable development goals. About twenty years ago, my colleagues and I developed a six-dimension framework for characterizing the diffusion of the Internet in a nation, and we used our framework to study many nations, including Cuba. As shown below, one of our dimensions was the absorption of Internet technology in education, healthcare, government and business.

Summary of the state of the Cuban Internet in 1997

Although they are minimal by today's standards, Cuba now has a transportation network, a national university network, a health network, a national school network, etc. These reflect the values and priorities of the society and, along with ETECSA, could form the basis for the sort of collaboration and coordination Maddens envisions.

Update 7/10/2016

A Spanish translation and discussion of this post and another on Cuban regulation in context can be found here.

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