Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Telecom regulation around the world

Paul Kouroupas has written an interesting series of posts about the state of telecommunications regulation around the world. He postulates a hypothetical company, CoolCo, that is an ISP that wants to sell Internet access, voice over IP, email, instant messaging, and web hosting to residential customers, while not owning any of its own transmission facilities. CoolCo wants to expand its services to include dedicated circuits for business customers, and is majority owned by U.S. investors with a Thai investor who owns 15% of the company.

Kouroupas then looks at how CoolCo would fare in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and the United States with respect to licensing requirements, license fees and other fees, foreign ownership restrictions, tariff, contract and pricing rules, interconnection rights and obligations, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the regulatory process.

He begins with Europe--licensing requirements are nonexistent; operators must simply "register and abide by a set of basic consumer protection obligations and regulations." License fees are nominal and consistent across the entire EU. There are no universal service fees or foreign ownership restrictions. There are no tariff requirements, no contract requirements beyond "conformity to basic legal precedence," no pricing rules "other than basic non-discrimination requirements." No regulator approval is required to set prices. Interconnection is mandatory, some states require unbundling of services by the incumbents. The regulatory process is relatively efficient and does not consume the bulk of CoolCo's resources.

In Latin America, Kouroupas looks at Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela, the countries where Global Crossing operates, and shows that there is a large amount of variation between countries, with Argentina, Brazil, and Chile being more open and adaptable, and Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela having more heavy-handed regulation. All have licensing requirements, with the less-regulated three and Peru requiring only a single license for CoolCo's offerings, while Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela require separate licenses for each service offered. All have license fees as a percentage of revenue, ranging from 0.5% to 3%. Universal service fees fall in the same range. Only Mexico has foreign ownership restrictions. Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela heavily regulate prices, tariffs, and form of contracts. Most countries require some form of interconnection, but in Mexico the incumbent (Carlos Slim's Telmex, which was privatized in the worst possible way) has been the recipient of multiple complaints for taking steps to avoid or delay the implementation of interconnection. In most countries the incumbent telco is the largest employer in the country and has considerable influence over the regulatory process, which often fails to complete by the legal time limits, leaving competitive telcos in legal limbo for months or years.

Kouroupas then turns to Asia, looking specifically at Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, with a brief look also at China and India. The former countries, unsurprisingly, are more open than the latter two, though the level of bureaucracy is also high in Japan and Taiwan. China, India, and South Korea have foreign ownership restrictions, at least for facilities-based operators.

Finally, he looks at the United States, which is hampered by a lack of consistency and coherent regulations, especially with respect to VoIP. Licenses are not required at the moment, but the FCC appears to have opened the door for it, and there are some specific requirements that now apply such as CALEA and E911. VoIP providers will have to contribute to the universal service fund by assuming that 64.9% of their traffic is interstate, which means paying 10.5% of 64.9% of their revenue. Foreign ownership restrictions exist, but CoolCo should not hit them at the moment due to its foreign ownership of less than 25% and its not requiring licensing, but this could change. There are no tariff, contract, or pricing rules that apply. For VoIP there are currently no interconnection rights and unbundling is limited. The regulatory process exists at both the federal (FCC) and state (public utility commissions) level. At the federal level, regulation is incredibly inefficient; at the state level it varies considerably from state to state but is generally more efficient than at the federal level and has promoted competition. The overall picture is one of uncertainty about the future.

I've only touched on the highlights of the detail in Kouroupas' posts, but it's clear that CoolCo will find Europe to be the easiest region to establish business in today. Check them out.

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