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The evolution of telecommunications policy-making: comparative analysis of China and India- Chun Liu, Krishna Jayakar

Taking a page from the new institutionalism school of thought, this article argues that institutions matter and that understanding institutions- both formal and informal- is crucial in understanding policy outcomes especially in the field of telecom policy making in India and China.

The authors analysed telecom policy making in India and China using 2 specific case studies- introduction of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) in China and the implementation of Conditional Access System (CAS) in India. An institutionalist perspective and Kingdon’s Multiple-Streams Framework (see below) were used to analyse the formal structures, rule-making procedures and interest groups involved in telecom policy making in the 2 countries.

Using the above-mentioned methodology, the authors showed that telecom policy making in India represents a “classical textbook case of incremental policy making” while the model that evolved in China represents non-incremental policy-making characterized by “inter-ministerial competition marked by deep-rooted political involvement, frequent bureaucratic bargaining” and significantly affected by macro-level political rearrangement.

After analysing the policy making process in both countries, the authors recommended changes in the institutional structure of the regulatory agencies in both countries for them to be more effective: (i) the government should put more attention to the importance of public communication and awareness building preparatory to major policy initiatives; (ii) Regulatory convergence to replace the old silo model of separate regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications; (iii) creation of an independent regulator for China and designating a special bench in one of the High Courts to exclusively hear appeals on telecom policy for India.

What is interesting to note in the paper is the authors’ attempt to apply the multiple streams framework- primarily intended to analyse Western democratic models- in non-western contexts. The result of the analysis showed that not all postulates of the multiple-stream framework are applicable in countries such as China and India like for instance the assumption that there are 3 independent streams or spheres of action that need to converge in order for policy to occur. In the case studies considered, there was not much evidence showing the existence of an independent policy stream composed of available and independent subject matter experts that decision makers consult. Instead, there was a much closer coupling of the policy stream and the policy entrepreneurs. It should be noted though that conclusions reached by the authors are limited to observations that were available via the case studies used.

While policy making in developing economies can be “different” from those in developed countries, both can still be “successful” as far as reaching their stated policy objectives are concerned. The current paper does not really try to provide a normative assessment of a “good” policy-making approach. A good focus for future research would be to measure (if possible) the discrepancy in application of Kingdon’s multiple streams framework between developed and developing countries.

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