Opening address: Regulators' Roundtable | ACMA

Opening address: Regulators' Roundtable

Opening Address to the Regulators Roundtable 2014

Opening address by Chris Chapman, Chairman, Australian Communications and Media Authority 

21 July 2014, Sydney Australia

"Beyond Convergence – the Networked Society"

Delegates, as Chair and CEO of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, it is my great pleasure to officially welcome all of you to Sydney for the fourth Asia Pacific Regulators Roundtable,…and my thanks to Mr Sameer Sharma, our ITU Regional Director, for his warm welcoming remarks.

I would like to acknowledge and extend a particular welcome to: Mr. Keng Thai Leong, Director General, Infocomm Development Authority, Singapore; Mr. Syed Ismail Shah, Chairman, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority; and Mr. Sharil Tarmizi, Chairman, Malaysian Communications And Multimedia Commission - who have kindly agreed to Chair sessions 2, 3 and 4 of the Roundtable, respectively. I will be your Chair for the first session which we will commence shortly after these “opening formalities” and our group photograph. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to Mr Andrew Maurer, Assistant Secretary – Spectrum, Treaties and Internet Governance Branch of the Department of Communications (DOC) –DOC being a great supporter of this event.

I trust you are all enjoying your visit to Australia and I hope you have had, or will find time in your busy work schedules, to enjoy some of the magnificent sights of Sydney while you are here.

I am very happy that the ACMA is hosting this years’ Roundtable, after having had the honour of being the inaugural host of the initial Roundtable held here in 2011 in Melbourne.  So this, the fourth Regulatory Roundtable, is the second in Australia. Over that time, the Roundtable has continued to grow, from 19 delegates representing 9 countries at the first Roundtable to 55 delegates from 23 countries today. 

There is no doubt in my mind that this continued growth reflects the benefits we have all gained, and will continue to gain, from the exchange of views and information at this event.  The creation of the Asia-Pacific Regulator’s Roundtable is a particular accomplishment of the ITU in this region, particularly with the excellent innovation since 2012 of rotating both the Forum and the associated the ITU / ACMA International Training Program (ITP) throughout our Asia-Pacific region.

The Asia Pacific region is the largest and most diverse region of the world.  It includes both the largest and some of the smallest countries in the world.  There are enormous variations in the size and development of communications industries, the availability of services and our approach to communications regulation.  There must, therefore, also be a similar variety in the approach to the technologies and the economic and social responses to them, all of which continue to evolve across the region.

In my view, this is a logical thing; a good thing.  The Regulatory Roundtable provides us with the opportunity to share the range of our experiences and approaches to the issues that we face, to enhance regional cooperation and work to understand together the regulatory challenges in the ICT sector of the dynamic and diverse Asia‐Pacific Region. 

Having said that, I want to echo some remarks I made in early June in my opening remarks to the third meeting of the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity Preparatory Group meeting for the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference, hosted by the ACMA in Brisbane. These were remarks made specifically with regard to matters of spectrum administration, but I consider the perspective equally applicable in general. 

“So, while we come here to work together as part of the Asia-Pacific region, I also want to clearly recognise the need to keep in mind the importance of each individual administration and the circumstances unique to them.  Australia values regional cooperative processes very highly, but equally, we also recognise and respect that national sovereignty needs to be appreciated and respected. 

When at times we do not agree about an issue or policy response, it is important we all realise that the specific requirements of a specific country will remain paramount.  The considerations and positions of each individual country cannot (and will not) be dismissed.   If our domestic considerations can match or align, then that can be a significant bonus for the region in a variety of ways, but for various reasons that ‘regional bonus’, unfortunately, may not always be there. And we need to respect that outcome”.

So, here, the bonus that is ours is the benefit of learning from one another. We can always brainstorm new and emerging challenges, possible solutions and potential collaboration.  This will then enable us to mutually benefit from the wide variety of perspectives that our diversity offers to us, irrespective in many ways of the degree of alignment we perceive in the end.

And there is much to learn – we are, all of us, only too well aware: the world of the communications regulator never stands still.  Given the speed of change, it is perhaps inevitable that last year’s emerging issues will have become this year’s accepted practice and next year’s outdated approach! 

Previous Roundtables have focused on our external environment and the impact on us, as regulators, of a converging regulatory environment.  It is apparent (certainly to me at least) that there has been an important shift in focus on ‘convergence’ (as we have come to understand it) to the broader and more nuanced but all-consuming idea of a ‘networked society’, or as some express it, the ‘connected life’.  So it is appropriate that this roundtable looks a little further, moving beyond convergence by turning the focus towards how we manage our regulatory environment in the ever more fluid world. This world was well captured by the ITU itself in the Conclusion of the 2013 edition of Trends in Telecommunication Reform, which noted:

The new networks are breaking down the traditional categories of regulation and causing policy-makers to rethink their legal and regulatory frameworks. The advent of new services [is] also raising basic questions about how such services should be regulated; can old models be applied or is a new approach needed?”

In recent years, the dialogue has begun to move on, from how to regulate in a converging communications market to how we do so in a networked society, one in which broadband access becomes ever faster and more ubiquitous.  While as a group we are at different stages in this evolutionary process, as regulators we must all be able to remain relevant and effective in the challenging and rapidly - changing environment we find ourselves today - in a world where change is the constant. 

Thus we convene here to explore fully and frankly themes such as the need for regulators to be agile and adaptive in order to remain relevant; the ways in which expectations are changing and increasing, of not only from users and citizens, but also political, industry and consumer groups, other sector regulatory authorities, content providers, media, Over the Top service providers, security agencies, and other national regulatory authorities; what principles and practices that can perhaps assist regulators to evolve from a position of sector-specific regulatory authority to a stance that can facilitate the continued emergence of the networked society. 

In the first session today, Evolution of the Regulator - addressing national concerns (which I’m chairing) I want us to walk through some of the ways in which the sheer pace of change tests our existing regulatory approaches, in some circumstances rendering them irrelevant or even in hindrance in the development of new and desirable services.  I will briefly (and I must admit proudly) canvass the work undertaken by my staff in recent years to analyse the effects of the changing environment on the Australian regulatory environment: which regulatory concepts have broken, which remain relevant and how we can best facilitate the desirable and indeed inevitable networked society.  I will conclude with what I see as the need for regulators to be ever more agile, and thus be able to play an important, indeed pivotal role, as a future regulatory centre point. 

I am then looking forward to relinquishing the role of Chair to the esteemed colleagues I introduced earlier, and then participating among you for our further discussions. After lunch, Session 2 will address international concerns in Evolution of the Regulator theme. Following that discussion, later in the day, we will turn our attention in Session 3 to “The changing communications sector – How user’s expectations have changed and how that is driving the sector”. Then tomorrow morning, we will turn together in our fourth session to a consideration of “Facilitating regulatory environment for the networked society: The way forward”.

This theme of facilitation is something very close to my heart, and to the regulatory practice of the ACMA, which is exemplified in our corporate strap line, which is that we ‘communicate, facilitate (and then if all else fails) regulate’. We adopted this ‘mantra’ as part of our very early acceptance that a shift from the traditional regulatory stance would be needed as the ACMA faced a world of constant change.

And indeed I feel that in our current environment, both here in Australia, regionally and probably globally, perhaps the most powerful element in that summary statement is the commitment to facilitate.

I believe it is our responsibility, as senior leaders in communications regulation for the region, to ensure that we are as well placed as possible to deal with the accelerating technological changes, which of course make communications regulation such a fascinating area in which to work. 

To do so, we must be as flexible and forward-looking as the industry we regulate, able to identify the right lever to achieve the outcomes we desire.  I believe a key element in ensuring that we are able to do so is continued dialogue at forums such as the Regulator’s Roundtable.

So having been involved in the Regulatory Roundtable since 2011, I feel able to state pretty confidently that the next two days will provide us an excellent opportunity to gain a greater depth to our understanding, as regulators, of the issues I have sketched.  As I emphasised earlier, sharing our experiences and insights into dealing with these challenges can only be to the benefit of us all.

On a practical level, if there is anything we can do to assist during the Roundtable, please speak to Mr Colin Payne or Mrs Natalie Brideson who will be more than happy to help.

Finally, I’d like to invite you all to take part in group photo to commemorate this event.

Last updated: 21 July 2014