ITU Adopts New Regulatory Guidelines for Digital Transformation

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Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Houlin Zhao

By Emma Okonji

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has adopted new regulatory guidelines that would promote adaptive, resilient and collaborative regulatory system in advancing digital transformation.

Participants who attended the recently concluded ITU’s 20th edition of the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-20), which held virtually, also highlighted the regulatory roles that would help drive digital markets to face unexpected events like the COVID-19 pandemic and emergencies.
The participants who were mainly telecoms regulatory authorities, agreed that in the wake of COVID-19, regulation could boost the readiness of digital markets.

They therefore adopted GSR-20 Best Practice Guidelines, which is the gold standard for regulation to respond to the challenges of digital transformation in the aftermath of global crises and beyond.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, said: “This crisis has demonstrated that information and communications technology (ICT) is a unifying thread that runs through all aspects of our societies and economies, and our approach to ICT investments must recognise and embrace this reality.
“At stake is the ability of regulators and policy-makers everywhere to unlock investment to support growth, jobs and innovation – but also to save lives and demonstrate their value added in this increasingly connected world.”

The forum explained that national economies and citizens have been relying increasingly on digital infrastructure during COVID-19. The current crisis and the probability of new global emergencies means that regulators will need to switch to regulatory frameworks that are adaptive, collaborative, outcomes-based and technology neutral, the forum said.

The GSR-20 Best Practice Guidelines emphasised the need for coordination among all stakeholders, integrating sustainability into regulatory frameworks, maximizing benefits, while reducing harms of digital technologies, striving for transparency and trust throughout the regulatory process. It also highlighted an evidence-based approach, and frequent revision of regulatory frameworks to ensure they remain fit for purpose.
GSR-20 Chair, Dan Sjöblom, said: “The GSR-20 Best Practice Guidelines cast a framework for progressive regulatory patterns and policy while charting the way ahead for industry and regulators. We have identified concrete steps to pursue regulatory reform towards achieving thriving, inclusive digital markets.

“As the pace of digital transformation accelerates, developing an effective regulatory approach is more vital than ever. In the face of new global emergencies, governments and regulators need to consider holistic, cross-sectoral, and, to the extent possible, multi-national regulatory and policy approaches.”

The GSR-20 Best Practice Guidelines propose the following reforms:
Agile framework for competition in digital markets: Regulators should support innovation and new business and licensing models that facilitate affordable access to and investment in health, enterprise, and educational services on digital platforms.

Codes of conduct (voluntary or enforceable): Regulators should guide digital platforms and support them throughout the process of creating codes, their implementation and enforcement in important areas, such as online content moderation on digital platforms, addressing misinformation and online news quality, and child online protection.

Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, said: “In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the work of regulators and policy-makers is critical.

“Our ICT policy and regulatory frameworks will need to be fit-for-purpose. They will need to be up-to-date, flexible, incentive-based and market-driven to support digital transformation across sectors, and across geographical regions.”