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Why do we need national telecom/ICT/broadband policies?

Following on from the previous post re Bangladesh making do with an obsolete national telecom policy from 1998, I’ve been asked why we need policies, when in my time in government in Sri Lanka first as a regulator and then handling policy, I had not done much about Sri Lanka’s own obsolete policy (a couple of sheets of paper from 1994).

A national policy provides a framework for decision making. A national telecommunications policy lays down basic principles to guide decisions of all relevant government agencies (not limited to the Ministry in charge of the subject) and other stakeholders, including service providers, investors, and even consumer organizations, which makes stakeholder input vital for its formulation. Not just the end result, but the process is also important. One needs stakeholder input; one also needs stakeholders to own the policy.

A national policy provides the basis for setting priorities that should then determine how different strategies interact and resources are allocated. A national telecommunications policy should be articulated with other national policies, such as those on competition, consumer protection and, of course, national ICT/e-gov and other policies. It must reflect the changing needs of the economy and the society. It must be capable of accommodating changing market and technological conditions. This means that it must be as technology-neutral as possible.

In sum, a National Policy must contain a vision that is bigger than telecommunications, principles, goals, objectives, and actions by the Ministry, Regulatory Agency and other government agencies, as well as metrics to ascertain whether the objectives are being achieved. The NTP must be articulated with other relevant national policies. Where resources are required, it must indicate where they may be found.

Life is always about making choices about priorities. When I was in government, we knew policy was important, but there were more important things that took up our resources. I wish I had found the time to drive the formulation of a good policy for Sri Lanka. In the short term, the choices we made were the right ones. But in the medium term perspective, it would have been good if I had somehow found the time to get a policy in place.

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