Reflections on this week’s ITU discussions

Every four years, the International Telecommunication Union retains a Plenipotentiary Conference to address the strategic direction of the ITU upon telecommunications issues. I have just spent several days in Busan, Korea at this year’s conference, working alongside with other USG officials, including head of delegation Ambassador Danny Sepulveda from the State Department, Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling from NTIA, Associate Secretary Andy Ozment from DHS, and my colleague from the FCC, Commissioner Mike O’Rielly.

Together, we held a series of bilateral meetings with delegations from other countries in the important work of the conference, wanting to ensure the international community helps to provide development and capacity-building assistance to countries on important issues like infrastructure deployment and cybersecurity. Regulatory issues were hot topics in several of these meetings, as well as in a number of FCC bilateral meetings with our counterparts through independent regulators and telecom ministries.

I came far from these meetings with a few tips. First, virtually every regulator emphasized essential it is to get broadband to countryside and remote areas of their countries – to promote economic development, schooling and effective healthcare. Not just online connectivity, but broadband. They understand that high speed access can unlock the potential for individuals to prosper in their local organizations instead of migrating to urban facilities in search of a better quality of life.

While we may be at different stages along the path to enabling high speed access for those in rural areas, the challenges they described sounded all too familiar. As we focus on empowering people in rural America simply by enabling affordable access to broadband, we will at the same time be a case study and a shared experience that will be of interest to many countries around the world thinking about broadband deployment.

A second shared challenge is the difficulty of freeing spectrum to get more efficient uses. African countries, for instance , are facing a 2015 deadline day for their DTV transition, and we got several lively conversations on the “lessons learned” from our experience just a few years back. In addition , other countries are discussing how best to conduct spectrum auctions, and have been following our auctions activities closely. We discussed not just auctions methodologies, but also how better to strike that delicate balance in between licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

And third, every session included a spirited discussion regarding the challenges regulators face as they grapple with regulatory frameworks from a circuit-switched world trying to keep up with a fast-evolving IP environment. Suffice it to say there was a lot of interest in the technology transitions activities underway at the FCC.

Discussing shared targets and comparing problem-solving approaches has a way of focusing attention on the commonalities between the challenges we and other government bodies both face. It’s clear that other countries are following how the FCC tackles these challenges carefully; they monitor our proceedings and study our orders. This just underscores the importance of getting our insurance policies right – the decisions we all make matter not just for U. S. consumers, but set a typical for policy makers worldwide.

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