Monday, October 08, 2007

Debating E.A Telecommunications harmonization

The East African Community, in its current form, was established as a partnership between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in 2001. Burundi and Rwanda joined the Community in 2007.

The purpose of the Community is "to widen and deepen economic, political, social and cultural integration in order to improve the quality of life of the people of East Africa through increased competitiveness, value added production, trade and investment." This includes a process of integration beginning with customs union (established in 2005), moving through the creation of a common/single market, then to monetary union and finally to political federation.

Harmonisation is crucial to this process. Harmonisation does not necessarily mean that arrangements in all three countries must be the same, but that they must work together in a way which promotes cooperation and cross-border trade, and which does not favour one country or its businesses/citizens over another. The EAC Strategic Plan proposes harmonisation in many areas of economic and other activity - from fiscal and trade policy to legal and judicial processes.

Harmonisation of policies and regulations relating to communications is also proposed within the EAC. Harmonisation was an important part of the development of a single market in communications within the European Union - in which communications businesses from any one country can compete on equal terms with those in any other country within the Union. The regulatory frameworks associated with harmonisation have been very important in liberalisation within the EU.

The study which David Souter is presently working on focuses on options for harmonisation of communications policy and regulation within the EAC. It is primarily (but not exclusively) concerned with telecommunications and with services that depend on telecommunications. At this stage, it is also primarily concerned with the three founder members of the EAC (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda).

Important questions raised by harmonisation include the following:

1. What differences are there at present between the communications markets in the different EAC countries? What effect do these have? What would be the effect of removing them?

2. What are the main problems with current policy and regulatory arrangements in each country - particularly where business development and consumer services are concerned?

3. What effect would the development of a single market in the EAC region have on communications businesses and on consumers? For example:
a. What would businesses be able to do that they cannot do at present?
b. What difference would it make to consumers?
c. Would it facilitate more transactions across national borders - in ICT and other sectors?
d. Would it lead to the development of more EAC-wide ICT businesses?

4. What are the main (economic, social, political) drivers for harmonisation of communications policy and regulation? What are the main constraints?

5. What priority issues need to be addressed in the first stage of harmonisation? (In other words, what major problems faced by businesses or consumers should be addressed first on a cross-border basis?)

6. Should arrangements for market structure and regulation eventually be the same in all EAC countries? If so, over what timescale? If not, why not?

7. What institutional arrangements would be appropriate for harmonising communications policy and regulation in the region? What would be the right timescale for doing this?